The Fathers’ Support Center of St. Louis recently held a child support symposium at the University of Missouri-St. Louis’ Millennium Student Center. The fathers in attendance wanted answers to their questions about paternity, child support payments, visitation and custody.
“Paternity is very important to us, gentleman,” said Raymond Bibb, a child support enforcement specialist with the Missouri Department of Social Services’ Family Support Division. “Be sure that child is yours before you sign any paperwork.”
Genetic testing is free in the state of Missouri and should be taken advantage of, Bibb said, referencing local rapper J-Kwon who was a victim of child support fraud. The men nodded their heads, murmuring agreement.
Bibb was the lone male on a panel of four that included Kristen Bogan, legal advisor at Fathers’ Support Center, and two child support enforcement specialists with the state Family Support Division, Nichole Foster and Heather Kley.
During an informal Q&A session, men (and one woman) made their way to the mic to address the panel. One man said he has consistently paid his child support in the past, but is currently unemployed and owes $1,900 in arrears. With an upcoming court date next month, he asked if the panelists could offer any solutions that might help him avoid jail time.
If a parent has failed to make child support payments for six months within a 12-month period or owes $5,000 in arrears, Kley said, then that person would be eligible for a prosecuting attorney referral.
However, the final decision is left up to the judge’s discretion, and the odds are in favor of the judge opting for “a man paying something as opposed to nothing,” Foster said.
“They know that if you’re locked up, you can’t pay your child support,” Foster said.
Audience member Kenneth Goins, a former family law attorney and child support enforcement specialist, interjected to offer legal counsel on the subject.
Unemployed fathers should either consider filing a motion to modify their child support payments for a lower amount or request to make in-kind payments, Goins said. Most people are unaware of this alternative form of payment, which is a credit for purchase of goods or services rendered by the parent instead of direct child support payments.
“If you go over there and you cut her grass for a month, she could give you anywhere from a $25 to $100 credit,” Goins gave as an example.
Damon McKinney is a relatively new father. His daughter is only one year old, but he has already come to a sobering conclusion.
“It seems like the mother has all the power,” McKinney said during his second turn at the mic.
As she did throughout the entire event, state Rep. Karla May of Missouri’s 84th House district stood from her table in the audience and directly addressed him.
“The laws in the state of Missouri are favorable to the custodial parent,” May said. “Since I’ve been elected, we’re trying to make some modifications and adjustments to those laws to make it fair and balanced.”
May is still working to pass House Bill SB224, which was vetoed by Governor Jay Nixon. The bill would have allowed men who have paid off their child support debts to petition the courts to have their felony conviction for non-support expunged from their criminal records for employment purposes.
May was given an opportunity to make closing remarks. May has a
15-year-old son and said she mentors “a lot of young African-American males.”
“What you need to do is start to mentor those males,” May said to the men. “Let them know that they don’t want this in their lives. It’s important to be two people living in a house raising a child together, because the baby-mama, baby-daddy syndrome is drama.”
Contact Fathers’ Support Center of St. Louis at www.fatherssupportcenter.org.