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Documentary puts spotlight on punitive child support system

Family courts in Washington generally have good intentions when they pursue child support from noncustodial parents. The punishments for default, however, frequently make it harder for the parent to catch up on payments. The documentary "Where's Daddy?" explores the harm that children experience when parents cannot pay support.

Courts often impose punishments such as revoking a driver's license or sentencing people to jail when they are substantially behind on payments. These actions typically result in the inability to get a job or dismissal for those who have employment. These consequences deepen the problem of child support default. The consequences sometimes riddle parents with guilt and set them on the path to self-destruction.

The documentary recounts the story of a man who fled from police when his vehicle was stopped. He owed $18,000 in child support. Previous penalties for his default had landed him in jail and gotten him fired for work. According to the documentary, police killed him by shooting him in the back as he ran away.

The substantial portion of child support debt, 70 percent, arises from people who have reported incomes under $10,000 a year or no income. One newspaper review of the film called it a sobering look at the inability of the child support system to address complex parental challenges.

State guidelines generally factor in the income of a person when calculating child support. Someone falling behind on support payments might lose rights to visitation or child custody. An attorney may help a person petition a court to adjust child support based on current financial difficulties. This effort might prevent someone from falling into default and experiencing separation from children.

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