With Father’s Day coming up Sunday, Warwick resident Don Brearton II hopes to shine a positive light on an issue that’s bothering him – the bad rap he feels non-custodial parents have recently gotten in the media, as well as the fact that he believes the Child Support Bureau is “unfair” to non-custodial parents.
Brearton has been paying child support, as well as penalty fees that accumulated when he lost his job, for 20 years. He said an article that ran in the May 27 edition of the Providence Journal was one-sided and refers to fathers who struggle to pay child support as “deadbeats.”
But, what about “mooching mommies?” This is a term he created for women, including his ex-wife, who he said essentially make a living from child support payments.
These “mooching mommies,” he said, along with an “unfair system,” create deadbeat dads.
“They call it deadbeat dads but how about dads being beat to death?” Brearton said. “I’m sure it goes both ways. I’m sure there are fathers out there that are screwing the system, too. The non-custodial parent gets screwed, while the custodial parent is screwing the system.”
According to reports that were printed in the December 2011 issues of Consumer Income, about one in six custodial parents were fathers, which translates to 17.8 percent. Additionally, more than one-quarter, or 28.3 percent, of all custodial parents had incomes below poverty.
The Journal reported that “one in four children in the United States should be receiving child support from a parent who does not live with them,” however, “many of them do not get what they are owed.” Also, in Rhode Island, “almost 17,000 custodial parents are owed an estimated $292 million in back child support from former spouses or partners and their chances of collecting are slim.”
The Journal also reported that, “60 percent of what’s due for child support is actually paid each year in Rhode Island.”
For Brearton, who said he made several attempts to be a part of his daughter’s life before relinquishing his parental rights per his ex-wife’s request, feels the Child Support Bureau is making it hard for non-custodial parents to pay not only child support, but also fees that accumulate if they fail to make payments.
Years after he relinquished his rights, Brearton said the Child Support Bureau sent him a letter that stated he owned money for child support. It was filed in West Virginia, where his ex and daughter live, so Brearton traveled there to try to see if he could fight it. Unfortunately, the situation was out of his hands, he said.
“By the time I got the letter, the request for child support to garnish my check had already passed,” said Brearton, who had been earning $40,000 a year as a first cook at a local restaurant.
However, in 2003, the company Brearton worked for was bought out and he lost his job. Still, he was responsible for making child support payments based on his former wages, he said.
“I don’t make $40,000 a year anymore – I make $12.50 an hour and the payments are based on what I potentially make,” said Brearton. “Just because I made a lot of money one year doesn’t mean I’m always going to make that kind of money. The economy is bad [and] I’m lucky to get $12.50 an hour. When I called the child support office to have them review my case, she told me, ‘It will take us six months before we can review your case.’”
It ended up being a full year that Brearton couldn’t find a job. Because he wasn’t paying child support in that time, penalties began to accumulate.
While Brearton is taking responsibility for not paying child support in that time, as he is paying the penalty fees, it upsets him that it took the agency so long to review the case.
“The catch-22 is that I was out of work for six months and it took them another six months to review the case, so I accrued one year of interest,” he said. “The Child Support Bureau put me in this situation and created all this interest. When I get a new job, my case is reviewed immediately and they attach me right away, but it takes them six months to review a modification.”
Also, the agency denied a request he made for a reduction due to the fact that he was late in making payments.
“How do they expect us to get out of the hole?” Brearton said. “There’s no hope. They are killing us. That’s what frustrates me with the system, which is a broken system. Us ‘deadbeat dads’ versus ‘mommy moochers’ is a losing game when the referee is always in their favor.”
Moreover, said Brearton, he has been paying his ex 64 percent of his daughter’s costs, which translates to $778 per month since 1998, as his paycheck is docked a portion of that total each week. He previously was paying $459 per month, but received an increase in 1998 after a medical order was approved.
However, in 2010 Brearton was able to secure a reduction of 15 percent. While he’s no longer paying child support, he’s still paying the penalties, which add up to more than $45,000. Since 1994, he said, he’s paid at least $155,000.
“I end up taking home $133.43 a week,” he said. “And it’s not just my situation, it’s a lot of other guys. There’s no light at the end of the tunnel.”
Brearton, as well as a few of his buddies in similar situations, don’t think it’s fair that while they pay 64 percent of their children’s total costs, they can’t claim them as dependants.
Yet, the financial issues are only part of the problem. For Brearton, there’s emotional strife, too.
“I’ve seen my daughter probably as many fingers as I have on my hand,” he said, a tattoo of her name on his left shoulder blade. “The only contact I have is through Facebook and it’s really one-sided. That’s how I found out I’m a grandfather and she’s not going to college. She’s supposed to be a full-time student. I’ve offered to fly her up here, but … My daughter doesn’t know what a great guy I am and what a great father I am.”
These days, Brearton has been married to his second wife for 16 years and the couple has a 14-year-old son. At times, he worries that the issues he has relating to child support have taken a toll on his marriage, as well as his son.
“He really suffers and I worry that he won’t even want kids because of this,” Brearton said. “I took a washing machine, took it apart and sold the parts just to get $18 so I could buy some pasta for my family while my ex is getting $106 a week.”