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The Moneyist: ‘Not everyone that owes back child support is a deadbeat.’ Is it fair for the government to withhold a stimulus check for falling behind? Should there be exceptions?

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This letter from a father about unpaid child support proved controversial:

J.M. in Texas wrote to The Moneyist Tuesday to say he owed back child support for his son from my first marriage and, as such, money from his stimulus check was withheld and, instead, used to repay some of those debts. “Does President Trump not realize I now have another family to take care of? They need me now. If I can’t feed my family, I will do what I can to make that happen,” he wrote.

He did not give a valid reason — or any reason — for not paying, so The Moneyist took him to task. “You don’t get to pick and choose what children deserve your help at a time when millions of families are struggling,” I wrote. “Thus, the federal government has intervened to make sure you fulfill your legal and your moral obligations. The time has come to take accountability for your own actions.”

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In the letter writer’s defense, the government said that some kinds of outstanding debts, including student loans, would not prevent people from receiving their economic impact payment. Is it even an overreach to split these checks 50/50? Should the government make more of an effort to distinguish “deadbeat dads” who choose not to pay from parents who have made efforts to pay?

ACA International, the association of credit and collection professionals, said that it’s members continue to work “diligently” to assist consumers in managing unexpected financial challenges. Is it, in fact, ethical of the government to draw a red line on some unpaid debts, such as child support, while choosing to overlook other consumers who are in the red?

Some readers took umbrage at my response to J.M., calling it overly harsh:

“I am single mom,” one woman wrote. “I owe child support for two of my kids. I have custody of one who has Type 1 Diabetes, and I don’t think it’s fair that we have our stimulus check withheld. The simple fact is we can’t pay our child support. Some people make mistakes in their lives and they slip, and they can’t take care of their kids. The system is trying to hold us back.”

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Matthew, another reader who owes back child support, was even more upset:

“I too have had my stimulus check taken for back child support,” he wrote. “I too have a new family to feed. I am a disabled veteran and was unable to work for about 5 years after my last combat deployment. This is why I owe back child support. I worked my ass off in therapy, inpatient treatment, and rehab to get back to work and pay my child support. I now owe over $16,000 in back support.”

‘There are NO good reasons to not pay your support, but life does happen sometimes.’

“Think the government will give me a bail out? Think I’ll ever get a tax return again? Probably not, and that’s OK. I don’t want s*** from the government. Some people owe this money for a reason. There are NO good reasons to not pay your support, but life does happen sometimes. I am now back at work, one of the ‘essential’ workers everyone loves these days, doing a good job for s*** money.”

“I received my Bachelor’s degree while I was too scared to leave the house due to post-traumatic stress disorder. But that doesn’t count for anything. Not everyone that owes back child support is a deadbeat, or deserves to have their money taken. Besides, the problem is easily solved by splitting the payment between the two households.”

Also see: I received my ex-husband’s $1,200 stimulus check because we filed joint taxes in 2018. Should I give him the money or return it to the IRS?

James shared his story and some (now deleted) expletives:

“I lost my job in 2008. My child support was $1,300 a month because my ex-wife wasn’t working when we divorced,” he wrote. “It took me over a year to find a job that came even close to my prior salary and, in that time, I was making support payments as large as I possibly could, which was calculated by my state based on the law. I was racking up $600 a month in back child support.”

‘I lost my job in 2008. My child support was $1,300 a month.’

“When I got back on track in 2010, I was nearly $15,000 in debt to my ex-wife. I have been diligently paying the back support down and, now, 10 years later, I finally paid it off. I had two cars repossessed. If my cash flow dipped, she got the money and my cars didn’t. My ex-wife was underemployed for 8 of those 10 years so my support payments have remained over $1,000 per month.”

The Moneyist: My son is staying with me, yet my financially irresponsible ex-husband received his $500 stimulus check. Is my ex right to keep it?

“I have scraped and clawed and fought for every single thing I have and have built a fine, well-paying career. The reason I paid off the child support is because the government took the last $1,055 owed to my ex-wife out of my stimulus check. She has a great job now and didn’t need that money on top of the money that she and her husband earn. Her work has not been impacted by the virus.”

He added, “Yes, there are people who have skirted their responsibilities, but I paid as much as I could, sometimes working 2 to 3 jobs to make it all work. Thankfully, I haven’t had to take a reduction in salary, but my wife can’t go back to work at this point. But I guess we should take the “bla” out of blaming COVID-19 for her job being shut down, and her being furloughed and blame ME, correct?”

The Moneyist responds to these readers’ letters:

There are always two sides to reader letters. Based on J.M.’s own words and the aggrieved tone of his letter I assumed that — rightly or wrongly — that there were no good reasons why he did not pay the child support owed to his first family. If there was a valid reason why he did not pay, I would have expected him to say so in his letter. Sometimes, what you do NOT say speaks volumes.

The bottom line:

I applaud any parent who valiantly tries to do the right thing by supporting his or her children.

You can email The Moneyist with any financial and ethical questions related to coronavirus at qfottrell@marketwatch.com. Want to read more?Follow Quentin Fottrell on Twitterand read more of his columns here

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