In pursuit of child support
For some moms, getting the money they are entitled to by law is a constant battle
Friday, November 14, 2008 11:11 AM
Many Bermudians responded to our article in last week's paper "Moms losing out in court?" in which women and children's advocate Sheelagh Cooper called for an "overhaul of the entire system." She claimed that lenient magistrates and ineffective bailiffs were partly to blame for a system that is failing many of Bermuda's single mothers.
Although the majority of reaction came from single mothers seconding the call for a court 'shake-up' when it comes to child support, others came from men who said that "fatherhood should be as voluntary as motherhood," and that women should not make it their prerogative to "live off child support money."
Many of the responses were anonymous; one mom in Devonshire, told us she went to court to get her child support increased after they lowered it because the father was not working. "It was agreed that he pay me $150 a week instead of $100," she told us. "I went to take out a loan some time later and [the bank] said they wanted a printout of my maintenance fee from the courts, and that was when I learnt they [the courts] had never actually increased my child support.
"That goes to show all around they are doing a poor job. Maybe like you [reported], either they are not being properly compensated or there is not enough staff. Now they are sending him a warrant. The only time my child's father pays is Cup Match and Christmas, as that's the only time the bailiffs seem to come out. So I'm hoping to get something for Christmas!"
Here we publish some of the signed letters and also look closer at a specific case of one single mom who is struggling to raise four children and make ends meet.
Charlita Jolliffe Campbell is the single mom of four kids.
She is $11,000 in debt and, due to a serious traffic accident last spring, is unable to work fulltime; she brings home less than $260 a week.
She has lived in government housing for the past two years to help her pay the bills - something she said would not be necessary if only one of her children's fathers would pay the $15,000 in child support he owes for his 10-year-old son Giovanni.
Giovanni's father, Junior Wayne Campbell, said he would like "nothing more" than take care of his only child, but claims immigration restrictions make this impossible.
Ms Campbell, who is in her early thirties, said if Mr. Campbell was to pay the $15,000 he owes she wouldn't need any financial assistance.
"Ultimately where these fathers do not pick up the slack, taxpayers do," she said. "And it's not for the taxpayer to pay for my children to eat or where they live."
She said what upsets her the most is that she must "dig into" the child support she receives from her other son's father to pay for Giovanni.
"Denzi's father pays his child support and I am often forced to split it with my other children," she said. "It was only $75 a week but I went back [to court] and now receive $100."
Her older daughter Jakeita 14, does not live with Ms Campbell, and the father of her younger daughter, Anthasia, does not live in Bermuda.
Giovanni was born July 11, 1998 and Ms Campbell said he has been in the court system because of a lack of child support payments since February 22, 1999.
Her biggest problem, she said, is that Mr. Campbell is of no fixed abode - meaning that she unable to take him to court for not paying his child support.
She said: "He could be in court number 1 right now and I could go downstairs to the bailiff and say, 'He's right upstairs. Go arrest him now and take him to family court for not paying child support.' But they'll tell me 'no' because he must first be issued a summons, which would have to be sent to his home or work."
In other words, in order to get a warrant to bring him to court, he must first have an address in which to send it.
Mr. Campbell told us it is impossible for him to pay child support right now because he is tied up with immigration over status papers.
Although he was born in Bermuda, his parents are both Jamaican and he says he is unable to work in Bermuda because he is not officially 'Bermudian.'
Once they come through, he says he will go to the bank, get a loan and pay off the money that he owes.
"I feel terrible that I can't pay," he said. "I just want to take care of my son. When I have the money I will take care of him. I want the best for my son. He is my only child."
We spoke to Mr. Campbell over the phone and also arranged for him to come into the office to further explain his position. He never showed up.
The plight of single mothers such as Ms Campbell has prompted Sheelagh Cooper, head of the Coalition for the Protection of Children, to call for an "overhaul of the whole system."
She wants to see a more formal process that aims to eliminate low awards, and tackle what she sees as lenient magistrates and ineffective bailiffs.
However, ChildWatch co-founder Edward Tavares disagrees with Ms Cooper's suggestion to follow a more formal approach such as that of the U.K. or Canada.
"They are having major problems up there [in Canda]," he said. Instead, he suggested we need a more "positive model" such as those in countries like Denmark, Australia and Italy - which all have 'parenting plans.'
"In Australia they have set up family centres where both parents come up with a parenting plan with a psychologist and an attorney," he said. "That way the money goes directly to a child, each parent knows where money is going, and the father has access to the child. The only time you go to court is when one of the parents falters from the plan."
Mr. Tavares also said that fathers deserve more rights when it comes to their role as a parent.
He said: "In most cases, fathers want to be involved, but they have to go through so many hoops and hurdles that often they give up. Right now the money that the magistrates are awarding to the mothers are being allocated in response to what the mother says are the needs of the child. The father is not allowed to question it."
With the shared parenting plan, parents map-out how much time and responsibility each parent has for the child. It could be 50/50 or 40/60 - but the point, Mr. Tavares said, is that the father should have as much of a right to his child as the mother.
It's a problem that clearly affects a lot of women on the island and there is no immediate solution in sight.
What do you think? E-mail feedback to reporter
Helen Jardine: email@example.com