Fathers who do not pay child support are guilty of child abuse. So claims Marion Rich, founder of CHECS -- Coalition to Help Enforce Child Support -- an Atlanta-based non- profit organization seeking local and national awareness for problems of custodial parents and their children who are not receiving support as stipulated by law.
"A child naturally could have feelings of low esteem and rejection if his or her father did not care enough about that child to honor his legal, moral, and financial responsibility," explains Mrs. Rich.
The problem is compounded when a divorced mother has to work more than one job, as many CHECS members are forced to do in these times of spiraling inflation.
"Sometimes there are feelings of anger and guilt because the child feels unloved by the father. And if a mother is out of the home because she has to moonlight to make ends meet, the child is deprived of her attention, which is desperately needed," adds CHECS cofounder Marjorie Kase.
CHECS, which now is forming chapters in various cities throughout the United States, hopes to obtain federal funding to achieve its primary goal -- enactment of legislation to make nonpayment of child support a felony enforced by every court in the nation.
Mrs. Kase notes that less than half of support payments awarded by the courts arrive regularly, with compliance dwindling to almost zero as years pass. Moreover, 95 percent of custodial parents are women, who earn 56 percent less than male breadwinners.
"What most people don't realize," adds Mrs. Kase, "is that this is not a problem of welfare families but rather a problem of the middle-class, or upper middle-class ex-husbands -- the dentist, the attorney, the businessman. These people can find all kinds of ways to hide their income and to avoid supporting their children."
This causes problems in a child's life, CHECS members find. These can include moving to a less expensive home in a different school district; lack of attention and supervision if a mother needs to supplement her income; doing without things other children take for granted; and frequently being deprived of a college education. In turn, the child may become cynical of the legal system that winks at enforcement of child support laws.
While children suffer the most financially and emotionally, everyone pays if child support laws are not enforced, Mrs. Kase asserts. "The taxpayer foots the bill for food stamps, free school lunches, and all the welfare and social programs needed because a divorced mother today simply cannot support a family on her salary alone, without help from her ex- spouse."
So widespread is the problem that CHECS has begun sponsoring special workshops where attendees learn their legal options, such as filing abandonment papers and garnisheeing an ex-spouse's wages without having to consult a lawyer.
CHECS members also include some divorced fathers who are having problems collecting child support from ex-wives.