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Film looks at race and fathers in child support system

Some Texas noncustodial parents who fall behind in child support payments may do so because they cannot afford them. A study by the Urban Institute found that parents who earn less than $10,000 per year owe 70 percent of child support debt.

In a documentary called "Where's Daddy?", filmmaker Rel Dowdell examines how this is often the fate of African-American fathers. Dowdell found that in contrast to the stereotype of African-American fathers as neglectful, the issue is more one of various economic barriers. Some fathers are unprepared in family court because of an inability to pay for legal counsel. This also means that many do not realize they can request a child support modification if they fall behind in payments.

Once fathers fall behind, their problems may compound. If a father loses his driver's license, he may find it difficult to keep a job or see his children. If he is jailed for failing to pay support, he might also lose his job. The child support debt then grows. The full extent of the toll this can take is illustrated by the case of a South Carolina man who was shot to death while fleeing from a traffic stop because he did not want to return to jail for his $18,000 child support debt.

Parents may be able to work out an agreement for child support that suits them both. However, if they have a formal agreement in place, they need to have it modified or the parent who pays child support will continue to accrue debt. Modifications may be granted if parents lose a job or have another situation arise affecting their income or financial situation, but it will not affect any past due amounts.

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