A Los Angeles Superior Court judge just lowered actress Anne Heche's child support obligation by 75% because Heche says she has fallen on financial hard times. Recently she was allowed to "skip" paying child support for July. The judge may well have acted correctly in this case, but it begs the question, "If Heche can get a huge reduction so easily, why is it so hard for fathers in similar circumstances to get reductions?" According to a recent California Department of Child Support Services report, one of the leading factors creating "deadbeat dads" in California is that fathers who owe child support are rarely able to get downward modifications on their child support when they suffer drops in income. According to an Urban Institute study, less than one in 20 non-custodial parents who suffers a substantial drop in income is able to get courts to reduce the support obligation. A more typical example of what often happens when wealthy people who owe child support fall on hard times was recently described by Beverly Hills family law attorney Adam Sacks:
Courts almost never allow men to get downward modifications on their child support. I represented a guy who earned $33,000 a month and paid $12,000 in child support. His company went bust and his income crashed down to zero. We went in and asked for a downward modification--not an elimination of child support, but a downward modification. The judge said 'no,' and told him 'tough luck--you're capable of earning $30,000 a month, so go do it. I don't care if you live under a highway underpass in the meantime, just pay your support as ordered.'There are other factors in the Heche case--she's famous, so the judge would know that what he was doing was being scrutinized, and Heche had quality legal counsel, which many obligor fathers are unable to obtain. The AP story on Heche's child support is Anne Heche Ordered to Pay Up in Divorce and Child Support Settlement (6/7/08). During Heche's custody battle the media missed a crucial point, as usual. In my blog post A Crucial Point Missed in the Anne Heche/Coleman Laffoon Custody Battle, I explained:
Heche & Coleman Laffoon...are battling over custody of their five-year-old son Homer...there is a very important distinction between the two's behavior here, even though the media isn't saying much about it... Laffoon is asking for joint custody, Heche is asking for sole custody. In other words, Laffoon wants (or at least is willing) to co-parent his kid with Heche. By contrast, Heche wants full control and little or no role for Laffoon. There is a massive moral distinction to be made between the two positions, and the media misleads when it ignores this in favor of clichés about "angry custody battles" and "bitter divorces."I've also previously discussed Anne Heche's divorce in A Fathers' Rights Perspective on Anne Heche's Divorce/Custody Settlement. On the subject of women paying alimony, see From WomenPayingSupport.com--'Be a Man...Don't Ask for Spousal Support. To learn more about problems with the child support system, see my recent co-authored column New LA County Campaign Against 'Deadbeat Dad' List Unfairly Targets Low-Income Fathers (Los Angeles Daily News, 3/26/08).