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Reporters write book on deadbeat dads.

Charlene Dunbar is a modern-day bounty hunter. Her prey consists of deadbeat dads who skip out on their families and renege on their child support payments.

Dunbar started her Children's Support Services only after her own eight-year struggle to make her ex-husband ante up. She charges clients a basic fee of $175 and a 30 percent cut of the back support collected.

She's aggressive, one day bringing 13 parents into court to file criminal non-support charges against their ex-spouses. The parents were glad to pay Dunbar her share of the catch after giving up on government prosecutors and inept family service workers.

Bounty hunter Dunbar is just one of many unique sources contacted by two local authors in researching and writing their new book, "Make The Jerk Pay" (Albions Press, $14.95). The subtitle for this handbook on tracking down negligent fathers is, "Tracking Down A Deadbeat Dad And Getting Child Support."

The straight-from-the-shoulder book is a paperback product of St. Louis Post-Dispatch reporters Louis J. Rose and Roy Malone. Rose, 67, is now retired from investigative reporting work at the Post, while Malone, 60, continues to pound the keyboard for the daily paper from the Post's bureau in Belleville, III.

Rose and Malone originally planned to bring the investigative tricks of their literary trade to a book on abductions. The aim of the writing duo was to pen a book that would help people find missing persons who somehow, some way had vanished from their lives.

"Finding those parents who've skipped out on their child support was just going to be a small part of our original book," explained Rose. "But as we got into it, we saw just how much ground there was to cover on the child support issue. The enormity of the problem absolutely shocked us."

The statistics ferreted out by Rose and Malone reveal a national scandal:

* Stale collection agencies across the country are overwhelmed by 19 million cases of such negligence.

* More than 30 million kids are suffering because of the neglect of a deadbeat parent.

* While morns get nowhere with harried and indifferent caseworkers, children never know what it is to have a real lather.

* As much as $40 billion is owed in back support for kids lost in the debris of broken relationships.

"The biggest shock to me was to learn that only one in five of these fathers is making the child support payments required by the court," said Malone. "It's almost like the whole system is voluntary.

"There are lots of masons to be outraged by it," added Malone. "For one thing, the kids without fathers learn a total lack of responsibility from the example that is set; second, but perhaps less important, is that we taxpayers are called upon to pick up the slack for these deadbeats."

Akin to child abuse

"A deadbeat father who doesn't pay to take care of his own children is committing something akin to child abuse - morally, if not legally," said Rose. "We urge mothers to pursue deadbeat dads, no matter what kind of a sad story or excuse they have.

"In our research, we found dads with all kinds of sob stories, but they managed to come up with the money before it came down to going to jail," added Rose. "And we found some dads who moved away from responsibility, changed identities, who bought fancy cars and who were living in big houses."

The book by Rose and Malone constitutes a handbook on how to catch up with those dads. If working with the caseworker is not successful, the authors tell mothers how to do the leg work themselves.

Mothers can learn how to find the "missing" dad's trail in directories, in public records and on the Internet. They can also learn how to go after his assets and how to "raise hell" to get the system to go to work for them.

"In 1975, the federal government established a law that said the states had to set up a system for enforcing child support," noted Malone. "In St. Louis, we have a Child Support Enforcement Agency. Like so many agencies across the country, it is simply overwhelmed.

"With so many cases, the workers tend to put their energy into the easy ones, where fathers can be easily found," continued Malone. "We are suggesting that mothers take matters into their own hands. That means finding the husband, finding the assets, and putting it all into the caseworker's hands and demanding action."

Rose stressed that almost half of the book is devoted to tracking down the absentee provider. The sources to be utilized include the Internet, drivers' license records, phone directories on CD, Social Security files and various data bases available to the public.

"I had a mother in western Missouri who complained that her case worker was getting nowhere," said Rose. "I used some of our methods and tracked the husband's location down in 10 minutes. We took the information to the case worker, who was well-meaning, but who didn't have a clue as to how to use data bases.

"The hunt doesn't always have to involve computers and files, though," noted Rose. "Sometimes it just involves going to the husband's friends and relatives and leaning on them politely. That's how the police often get their information in investigations. Go to the relatives and just make a sincere case: 'This is his child, too. How can you help me?"

"The story of deadbeat dads is so big, and yet it has been swept under the rug," said Malone. "It involves millions of frustrated people, but it just isn't sensational enough for the media. It only gets picked up when it involves something like a dad trying to give HIV to his child to avoid paying child support."

Rose has his own theory for why the scandal of non-support hasn't hit the radar screen of the news media and legislators. He said editors and lawmakers associate with a different income class than that of single mothers. They are more aware of equal pay issues and promotions in the workplace, than with the problems of desperate mothers seeking child support to stay off the welfare rolls.

"We read Hillary Clinton's book, 'It Takes A Village,' because we thought she might give us a blurb to support our book," said Malone. "We were simply astounded that there's no mention of this problem in her book.

"We're convinced that this is probably the biggest crisis for kids trying to grow up and to have a chance - and it's nowhere in Hillary Clinton's book," Malone said in exasperation.

Rose and Malone cite the efforts of the Association for Children for Enforcement of Support (ACES) as a useful group looking for solutions to the deadbeat dads problem. The 35,000-member group helps single parents pursue child support.

The authors also point to legislative efforts to address the problem. Some proposed laws would require the garnishment of wages of deadbeat dads; others would get the IRS into the act by deducting child support as a part of taxes to be redirected to meet child support obligations.

"It really tore us up to hear some of the stories that are out there," said Malone. "There has to be a solution to the problem of enforcement. But, ultimately, a way has to be found to make deadbeat dads develop a conscience about abandoning and cheating their children."

RELATED ARTICLE: Men's group insulted by phrase 'deadbeat dads'

By Don Corrigan

Some fathers' rights groups take great offense at the term "deadbeat dad." They feel the term should be banished to the trash heap of politically incorrect verbiage - the heap that contains such labels as "gold-digger" and "welfare queen."

Members of the St. Louis chapter of the American Coalition for Fathers & Children (ACFC) are especially angered by what they feel is an unfair stereotype of the deadbeat dad.

The ACFC's annual Father's Day Proclamation includes a number of declarations, including the statement: "We will not be enslaved by the rhetoric of child support or welfare, or condemn any father who has done his best to follow through with the responsibilities of marriage, but was evicted from his children's lives by the so-called 'value-free choice' of an irresponsible spouse."

Lou Rose and Roy Malone, authors of "Make The Jerk Pay: Tracking Down A Deadbeat Dad And Getting Child Support," make no apologies for the title of their handbook for tracking down offenders in child support cases.

"The title of our book is not necessarily politically correct, but why not be frank about what this problem of child support is about?" asked Rose. "This is a male gender game. And our study shows that 90 percent of deadbeat spouses who don't provide support for kids are dads."

On radio talk shows, Rose and Malone have tangled with call-ins from angry

men such as Dave Usher, a local men's rights activist and a national board member of ACFC. Usher is among those who take exception to the "deadbeat dads" term.

"On the radio talks shows, we actually get more phone calls from men than we do women," conceded Malone. "And the men are very emotional. They are angry. They say they are not getting visitation rights. They say they are hit with unrealistic amounts of child support payments."

Malone said that he and Rose took great pains to point out in the book that single mothers need to honor visitation obligations granted divorced fathers. He said they also pointed out that women can also be deadbeats and that women can be jerks for violating the visitation rights of fathers.

"But it's pretty hard to get around the fact that the vest majority of deadbeat spouses are male," said Malone. "They are fathers who are hurting their children by shirking their financial obligations and responsibilities as parents."

Karen Nixon and Connie Nicely are two St. Louis area women who think Malone and Rose's "90 percent male" statistic for deadbeat spouses just doesn't tell the whole story. Nixon and Nicely have become active with the local chapter of ACFC after seeing how divorce has affected the status of men who are now in their lives.

"My husband was previously married and his ex-wife just gave him and our new family a very hard time," said Nixon. "She began denying him visitations and she would set up visits and cancel. It made it impossible for us to have any kind of life.

"On top of all this, his child support is so ungodly, it is incredible," continued Nixon. "Then she demanded to move to Chicago and he had to find money to fight her move to Chicago in court - but there was no money to pay for an attorney."

Nixon said the news media never tell the story of the burden that is placed on divorced males. She said males need to form a men's movement so that their grievances can get the same attention as those of feminists.

"The financial burden that has been placed on divorced dads these days is grossly unfair," said Nixon. "I didn't marry until I was 35 and I was living on my own independently. If I got a divorce, I would not expect my ex-husband to provide a roof over my head and everything else.

"Maybe there was a time when deadbeat dads didn't support their ex-wives and the kids, but I think the problem has been turned around," said Nixon. "The awards have now become an incentive for women to divorce."

Nicely said that her boyfriend was hounded by his ex-wife for support. The emotional trauma of the divorce led to the loss of his business. Now he faces prison for the back payments he owes on maintenance and child support, according to Nicely.

"I always considered myself a feminist. I've known women who've been abused by men; you hear a lot about that," said Nicely. "But the situation with my boyfriend led us to ACFC and it's really opened my eyes to some of the injustices that men have to face.

"I can see why men are driven over the edge to sometimes do horrible things," added Nicely. "The unfairness of what happens in our courts just sends them over the edge. And the media never show what went on behind the scenes when these terrible acts occur. They never show the judge, making $90,000 a year, telling a man making minimum wage that he has to come up with $1,000 a month for maintenance and child support."

Don Corrigan is a professor in the School of Communications at Webster University and he also edits two weekly newspapers
COPYRIGHT 1999 SJR St. Louis Journalism Review
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
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Title Annotation:includes related article on the St. Louis chapter of the American Coalition for Fathers & Children
Author:Corrigan, Don
Publication:St. Louis Journalism Review
Article Type:Bibliography
Date:Apr 1, 1999
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