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Documentary looks at child support, African-American fathers

Some New York fathers who fall behind on child support and lose touch with their children may do so because of a lack of money and an inability to navigate the system and not because they do not care. A documentary looks at how African-American fathers are disproportionately harmed by aspects of the child support system.

According to a study by the Urban Institute, 70 percent of child support debt is owed by parents whose annual incomes are under $10,000. African-American fathers make up a number of these parents, and while there is a stereotype that they are neglectful fathers, this is simply not the case. Instead, they face a number of barriers.

One is that they often lack money to get legal counsel. This means they may be unaware that if they lose a job or have another change in circumstances that makes them unable to keep up child support payments, they can ask for a modification. They may also not know how to navigate the system in other ways. A father may lose his driver's license, and this could affect his ability to work and see his children. Fathers who are jailed for not paying child support may also lose their jobs, falling into more debt.

Issues with child support can harm a parent's relationship with their children. However, parents who have custody should keep in mind that even if the other parent is not paying child support, they are not allowed to deny that parent access to their children. The parent should follow the usual visitation schedule. In some cases, parents might be able to work together to find a solution to issues around child payments although even if they agree, the child support order should also be changed or the parent will continue owing the same amount.

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