Hoping this falls into the hands of someone who can help.
I have decided to write this letter out of my concern of the faults in the Wisconsin Child Support system. I am probably not the first person to have taken the time to do this, as these problems with the system have effected, and will continue to affect numerous families, as good jobs are so few. This system continues to run as if anyone can find a high paying job, anytime, anywhere leaving many paying parents at a loss as to how to pay current monthly support as their arrearages incur.
Once arrears are so high, even if the parent has been paying something all along, they are being incarcerated for up to 6 months per case. Then, while they are incarcerated, they are falling even further behind as the arrears continue to “rack up”. In these cases, many families are being torn apart physically, emotionally, and financially.
I would now like to discuss the case of my husband, James A. Reyes. I will do my best to inform you of details as I recall them. There are some specifics, such as dates, that I am not completely sure of. If you take interest in this matter, documentation is held in the county of Shawano, Wisconsin. I will include such contact information at the bottom of this document.
James is a 32 year old man who began paying child support when he was 19 years old. At that time he had dropped out of high school and was paying out of his hourly wage from a local car wash. As the years went by, he went on to have 3 more children, and paid child support for them as well. Over time he tried his hand at many different jobs in attempt to stay current with his child support orders. At one courageous point in his life, he decided to get his CDL. I say courageous because for a man with only a 10th grade education, this was a very intimidating step, but, nonetheless, necessary. He went on to drive semi truck for quite a few years, doing well, doing the best he could to keep up. At this point his child support was set as high as $1182.00 per month. This is the amount James was paying when I met him. He never complained about it, he just accepted it as reality. I notice a quiet submission whenever the subject came up. He could never afford and attorney, never thoroughly understood the court process, never really fought it… he just did what he was told to do.
Approximately three years ago James and I were married and expecting a child of our own. About 2 months after our wedding, James’ youngest child at the time, was diagnosed with cancer. It was about the same time that he was laid off from his job. During his time laid off, he spent his time seeing his son through intense treatments, in the hospital sometimes weeks as a time. It didn’t take long for child support to bring him into court and his child support was raised to over $2000 per month. At the same time, I was on strict bed rest due to complications with my pregnancy, so I couldn’t work either. We ended up having to move in with his parents. He was devastated, broken, defeated.
Once his son was responding well to treatment, James became more serious about looking for a job. By now, he was already seeing his arrears become out of control. To top it off, his case worker, Christy Kulas had pulled his driver’s license. Okay, how do you take a drivers license away from a man with a CDL? This made no sense to me. I began to really feel his pain, and see that he was really being beaten down by the child support agency. I had so many questions; he had so many questions, starting with “what do you do now?” We went through the process of him applying for jobs, but not being considered because they could never pay him an amount near his previous wages. I had to drive him everywhere, pick up applications for him, drop them off… all of this while trying to care for my family, and work myself.
I could go on and on about this time period, the disappointment, the fear, calling child support to BEG Christy for mercy, the arguing, the struggling, the accepting, and ultimately the giving up.
We eventually came to the realization that James was going to be on unemployment for a while. Everyone we knew was struggling to make ends meet, businesses were closing, and jobs were lost, so many people out of work. James continued to ask around for something, anything, to no avail. Child support had been taking approximately $550 per month out of his unemployment checks, leaving him with more than $1500 per month tacking onto his arrears. Now, we have a HUGE mess, and we have no idea how we are ever going to get out of it.
In April of his year James owed over $100,000 in child support. He was ordered to either pay a purge of $10,000, or report to the county jail for 18 months (6 months per case). James was under the impression that if he FOUND a job, any job, and that he would not have to go to jail. He found a job washing dishes in a local bar and grill, and called to inform Christy of it. Christy then told him that it wasn’t good enough, it wouldn’t pay enough, and that he would have to come up with the money, or go to jail. He tried to talk to the State Attorney; he rudely said “you can get a job while you are in jail.”By the time he was incarcerated, his purge was up to $14,000… this amount is absolutely unattainable for us, so he is sitting in jail for a year and a half. Our family is devastated. Now, not only are we faced with this huge debt, we don’t have him either.
So, here I sit, wondering what to do next. I am doing my best to keep a roof over mine and my sons’ heads while my husband sits in jail. I am on government assistance, trying to run my own business, work part-time, and be mom and dad. I am struggling everyday in every way. Our 2yr. old just started carrying our family photos around the house pointing out his daddy. Jail policy here is that children are only allowed to visit on holidays, so, over the next year and a half my son and husband will lay eyes on each other only a handful of times. James is being treated like a criminal at the fault of a system that failed him. In turn, we are a broken family. By the time James is released, our son will be 4 years old. My husband fears that our son will not remember him.
Upon visiting James in jail, he informed me that almost all of the inmates that were housed in the upper level were in there for child support. I find it hard to believe that all of these men are straight up “deadbeats”. I can’t help but wonder how a system that was designed to help children could be so abused, and go so terribly wrong. These children are missing out on precious time with their parents over unattainable amounts of money. Whatever happened to giving our children what we could, and doing the best we can? What kind of message are we sending to our youth when we say that money is more important than their relationship with their parents? And, in cases like ours, what do we do next? How do we dig our way out of this? How and when will it get better?
My hope is that someone who can make a difference reads this letter, and finds a way to help us. James’ case is one of, what is bound to be, MANY more like it. This is bound to be an epidemic with our economy the way it is. These parents are going to continue to fall behind, and continue to be set up to fail, and continue to fill up our jails and prisons. I was always under the impression that we locked people up when they were a threat to society. Do you really think that these people are a threat? I think maybe they could become a threat out of mere desperation, and that would be another set of problems. Will you shield and protect your children from the person that owes $100,000 in back child support?
There are many other concerns that I have regarding my husband experience. One being that there is a strong possibility that one of the children he is paying for may not be his. We cannot afford a DNA test. James is not eligible for a public defender because of the nature of his case, and we cannot afford to pay an attorney. I strongly believe that there is a level of prejudice against James because he is an uneducated, Hispanic male with too many kids. I believe that there is an abuse of power within the Shawano Child support agency, and it should be investigated. Our only vehicle has a lien on it for child support. We know that we will never own a home, or have anything of our own. Our “American Dreams” have been shattered. I believe that my family has been “dismissed”, and “left for dead”. We don’t know who to go to, or where to go for help.
Thank you for taking the time to read James’ story, our story. If you or anyone you know is willing and able to help us, please contact me. My family will be forever grateful.
Hope M. Sargent-Reyes