When she separated from her husband, Elaine Garretson was left with an 18-month old daughter, no job and enough bills to fear bankruptcy. She knew she would have to fight for child support, but she had no idea the battle would last 32 years.
Garretson chronicled her experience in a book called, "Deadbeat Daddy,"
a book she hopes will show others that no matter how long it takes, they can get the money that was ordered to be given to them by the courts. “We beat the statistics, and we beat the odds,” Garretson said. “Through the grace of God, I was determined that we were going to make it through this, and we were going to have a better life.”
Garretson isn't alone in her experience with America's system of child support. Of Americans who are supposed to receive child support, 49 percent are are fighting to get what was ordered, are not getting any of what was ordered or have completely given up fighting to get it at all, according to poll results for Divorce360.com. Almost one-fourth of parents who are supposed to receive child support receive none at all, according to the United States Census Bureau.
Garretson thinks her experience makes her an expert on what's wrong with the child support system -- a system that doesn’t seem to be working for the 13.6 million custodial parents in the United States who are owed back child support payments. “I wrote my book to help people short-circuit their own journey," she said. "Unless you are involved in seeking support, you just don’t know what it is like.” GARRETSON’S JOURNEY
It all began for Garretson in 1975. Her husband disappeared, leaving the stay-at-home with their daughter, Michelle, and a bunch of unpaid medical bills from her daughter's birth. She struggled for years to pay the bills that stacked up, putting herself through school and getting a job in law enforcement so she could get back on her financial feet. Over the years, she tried to track down her husband to get him to pay the court-ordered child support, even registering her case in Virginia, hoping that with help from the Department of Social Services, she would be able to get him to pay. Nothing worked.
While working for the United States Marshall’s Service in the late 1990s, a casual conversation with a co-worker turned it all around. After she mentioned her inability to find her ex, the colleague took down some information. Within moments, the colleague tracked him to an address in New Mexico. “I had been looking for 22 years,” she said. She sent the information to her caseworker, but nothing happened. Six years later, the Virigina agency called to say they were closing her case. “I remember just laughing,” Garretson said. “...I said, ‘What do you mean you are closing out the case? You did nothing.’”
She contacted New Mexico’s Child Support Enforcement Agency
. But because the state had a statute of limitations on child support, an agency representative told her they didn’t know what to do with the case. It took two more years of pushing through both states' court systems before she finally got a hearing with her former husband present. Two more years and more court hearings and appeals later, New Mexico found in her favor, requiring her ex-husband to pay back support to his now adult daughter. In the end, the court held that he owed $25 a week from the time his daughter was 18 months old, until she was 7, when Garretson remarried. The total was $7,325. With years of interest, the amount was more than $27,000. CHANGES TO SYSTEM NEEDED
The system is not only deficient toward custodial mothers, Garretson, but to all parents who are trying to navigate it. “The system was not originally designed to impoverish noncustodial parents, who are mostly noncustodial fathers," she said. “But the defects in the system go against decent men. They tend to bear the brunt of society’s rage for those who don’t comply.”