Steve wrote me recently about his experience with his child support enforcement agency in his home state. While he was up to date with his child support order, his kids' mom wanted to modify the child support order, and the child support enforcement agency staff asked him to come in and review his financial information with them.
"I could not believe how poorly I was treated," Steve told me. "I was treated like the enemy from the moment I arrived.
They were suspicious of my numbers, challenged me at every turn, and left me feeling like a criminal, even though I have always met my obligations. Should I have done something differently? How should I have prepared better to deal with the child support enforcement people?"
There is perhaps no more frustrating experience for a non-custodial father than dealing with his local or state child support enforcement agency. Dads may simply not be prepared to encounter a situation in which they are automatically perceived badly and where they are made to feel like an enemy.
Unfortunately, when the enforcement agency employees see the worst side of non-custodial dads, they often develop attitudes that carry over to all fathers. As much as we may wish it different, we are often painted with a broad brush. Knowing that this bias frequently exists can help a dad realize that he has to be well prepared before he meets with the child support enforcement agency.
So, what do you need to do, bring and prepare for your visit to the child support agency?
Keep your appointment. The civil servants who work for the child support enforcement agency are busy and frequently overworked and carry unbelievable case loads. Respect an appointment and show up on time. If you truly can't meet at the committed time, call and reschedule.
Bring your documents. Have everything in order and in a file folder. That includes legal documents, pay stubs, tax returns, W-2 forms, deeds, custody orders, documents related to a job change or layoff, and any other documents they may request. Having copies made ahead of time is also a good idea; they will appreciate someone who comes having thought ahead of time about their needs.
Keep good records. Often, dads find that the records at the child support enforcement agency are either incomplete or inaccurate. Keep a careful log of payments made, gifts you have given to the children (which don't count toward child support but do show a pattern of care), items you purchased that your kids' mom was obligated to purchase, additional help you offered but was refused, etc. Save receipts in a big envelope so you have good records when you need them. And keep every letter or email you receive from your ex, from the child support enforcement agency or from the court related to child support.
Use the agency website. Frequently asked questions, documents, forms, etc. are often found on the agency website. Get familiar with what is there and get to know the rules, how things work and what you need to know about the process.
Each jurisdiction handles things a bit differently than others, so knowing what the rules are in your area is important.
Stay focused on the children's interest. The people at the child support enforcement agency are typically there for the children. So expressing concern for the children consistently will communicate that you are a good and caring dad. Because you are a committed dad, this should be easy. If you are not committed, don't lie - just get there. Going the extra mile for the children and sharing that with the employees there can help in your relationship with them as well.
Don't be afraid to ask questions. Assume nothing. If you don't understand something, ask. The child support enforcement employees' job is easier when you understand and harder when you don't.
You won't need to feel intimidated or afraid of the system if you maintain a good attitude, keep your records in order, learn about and understand the process and put your children's needs first.