Child-Support Laws: A Boon for Gold Diggers?

Experts say that flaws in the system punish poor parents and motivate others to have kids for money.

Charlie Sheen and Brooke Mueller (Frazer Harrison/Getty Images); Halle Berry and Gabriel Aubry (Stephen Lovekin/Getty Images)

Fixing a Broken System

Middleton-Lewis noted that there are states that require an accounting of child-support funds. In Georgia, famed African-American attorney Willie Gary had his $336,000-a-year child-support payments to the mother of his twins lowered to $60,000 after an auditing of her financial records discovered that she used the payments to renovate her home, pay for the education of a child that was not his and, according to the judge, refused to seek employment despite holding a college degree and being in good health.

Middleton-Lewis said, “I think there needs to be some sort of cap on how high the support can actually go when you’re dealing with very wealthy parents.” She added, however, that even a system of caps, which would be an improvement on the current one, would still benefit from judicial discretion. For instance, if a child has special needs requiring medical care, in that instance a cap would need to be revisited or raised.

Felder opposes caps. But surprisingly, Destiny, a Texas-based single mother of a 6-year-old boy, supports them (she asked that her last name not be used). She struggles financially because her son’s father, whose monthly support order is $237, is thousands of dollars behind in child support. Without specifying a number, she said that a cap would make sense at a certain point.

“Yeah, I think there are people who have babies by athletes to trap them or keep them and have this lump sum of child support coming in.” But, she added with emphasis, “There are single moms out there really struggling to make ends meet and not trying to abuse the system but who have a real focus on meeting the needs of their kids, not to hurt the man, but who are just really trying to provide for the child.”

Destiny agreed with both Felder and Middleton-Lewis on one thing, though: The wealthy have an advantage in the current system. She explained that just to try to get her child-support order enforced required legal counsel. The cheapest attorney she could find cost $1,500.

Calling the child-support system “an epic failure,” she said that parents like her — who aren’t famous and don’t have a child by someone famous — are essentially forgotten by the judicial system and ignored by the media and public officials. When asked what advice she would give to other women in her shoes, she said, “Do the best with what you’ve got, and keep seeking justice. Don’t give up.”

Middleton-Lewis advised parents to seek counsel from someone specializing in child-support law. Middleton-Lewis, currently representing a cast member of VH1’s Black Ink Crew, said if you can’t afford a lawyer, there are resources available to help.

When asked for his solution for deterring adults, specifically so-called gold diggers, from abusing the child-support system, Felder said simply, “You know, a man could use a little self-control and caution if he’s dating a woman and not allow this to happen.”

Or perhaps he could be more selective about whom he chooses to date and marry. According to reports, Sheen offered to double the child support his first wife, Denise Richards, is receiving, since she is caring for his two boys with Mueller. Richards allegedly declined the offer, saying that she already receives more than enough.

Keli Goff is The Root’s special correspondent. Follow her on Twitter.

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