Consider yourself lucky. Things could be worse.
You could be a single mother, trying to finish a college degree while supporting a 3 1/2-year-old whose father, a former Bengal, is hiding out in another country so he doesn't have to pay the $108,607 in child support he owes for three children.
Worse yet, you could be the type of person he is -- someone who obviously doesn't flinch at hurting a small child who, at this age, only has love to give to anyone she meets.
As I listen to the stories being shared at a single moms' support group meeting at Raymond Walter's College in Blue Ash, I wonder how much this child knows and how much she hurts.
At this meeting, the mothers are questioning a lawyer, familiar with child-support issues, who has agreed to visit. I keep getting distracted as I think of the little girl, and a little boy who, unfortunately, has been brought to this meeting by his mother.
He is playing with some toy cars on the floor in the corner. He turns briefly to his mom when she asks whether she can have another man adopt her child without getting the biological father to sign away his rights.
Without reaction, the boy turns back to his toys. Maybe he is used to the talk of mothers who are filled with fear, hurt, hatred and anger. Or maybe, like the little girl who has never met her football-star father, he would like to know where his father is.
"I tell (my daughter) that, yes, she has a dad, but that he is very far away," her mom explains. "That's about as far as I've taken it for now."
County prosecutors, contacted after this meeting, say they've been chasing this father ever since paternity was established by the court. They last located him in England, where the highest charge for not paying child support is a misdemeanor, says Terry Gaines, chief assistant prosecuting attorney in the Hamilton County Prosecutor's Office. Even though the man has been indicted on a felony and could face jail time here, the prosecutor's office, based on precedent, has thought for some time that the authorities in London would not extradite him because they would not extradite on what, in their country, was only a misdemeanor. But last week, they received word that the foreign authorities would allow extradition, Gaines says, so prosecutors now are stepping up their efforts to locate the father again.
Child support enforcement is a high priority for the prosecutor's office, which has 10 assistant prosecutors assigned solely to these cases, Gaines says
In January, a slow month, the Hamilton County courts handled 1,971 hearings related to this issue. Of those, 412 were to establish paternity, 1,237 were to set support for children born out of wedlock and 342 were contempt actions.
The statistics are no shock to the women at the meeting, all of whom have been through "the system."
A 19-year-old mom at the meeting complains about threats she's getting from her child's father's mother who has been paying child support under court order because the father is a minor.
"If I would ask for her income to be taken off, would they do that because I don't want her money?," the mom asks. "It's because of all the other things she's threatening to do now. I'm doing it out of fear."
The lawyer at the meeting says, "A very low percentage of people who threaten to get custody actually ever file. It's usually a hollow threat."
Another mom, whose children are older, was once married to the father. At the time of their divorce, his income was good, and spousal support was "pretty high," she says.
"Then, he got really stupid, and he's incarcerated."
Does the child support order -- based on his prior income -- stand?, she wants to know.
Yes, the lawyer says.
"Being incarcerated is not grounds to reduce the order," he says.
The logic, he says, is that he made a conscious decision to break the law, and the children should not be penalized. It's the same as being voluntarily unemployed, making a voluntary decision to reduce income.
But money doesn't seem to be the only issue for most of these women. To hear them tell it, some of the children's fathers are threatening to get custody because they've been ordered to pay, not because they want the child. Intentional or otherwise, there's a lot of back and forth, and the children are stuck in the middle.
"I don't want his money," says another 19-year-old mom. "I don't want anything to do with him. But my child is on Medicaid, and they're making me."
The lawyer says, "If dad has not had anything to do with the child until he's ordered to pay support, demanding custody is not looked on favorably."
The mom who was once involved with the NFL player knows he won't be making such threats. He refused to look at the baby at a court hearing, she says. She is more interested in knowing where single parents can get help.
An accused criminal, she points out, can get a public defender. But a mom who is working, going to school and getting public assistance can't afford a lawyer, and the court does not appoint one.
Gaines, in the prosecutor's office, agrees such mothers aren't represented. It's the prosecutor's job to "represent the children."
But a private lawyer is going to face all the same obstacles, including the obstacles in extraditing the father, and likely would not be able to do any better, he says.
So after 3 1/2 years, the mother is left with a court order that has done her no good.
Her case is different, but like all of the mothers here, this likely will be just another chapter in a relationship that went bad but isn't over.
For her it's a story of humiliation -- brought on by a court system in which judges favored the father because of his NFL status -- and pride, experienced every day as she works to give her daughter everything she needs and watches her grow strong.
He, like the rest of the fathers, isn't here to tell his side. But it really doesn't matter. Hearing that they were tricked or that there's some other valid reason that justifies the ongoing ill will, doesn't change the fact that their children are growing up with ill will unresolved.
This mom is adamant: She will never say anything negative to her daughter about her father. She will let him have a relationship with her, if he ever decides he wants one.
But she wants someone to agree that by fighting for their children's rights, single moms have unfairly been given a bad rap.
She's not going to get that at this meeting. And when the response comes, it occurs to me it is one all parents -- single or otherwise -- should hear and repeat to themselves often.
"If both parents would be primarily interested in what's in the best interest of the child rather than how do I get back at this person, we'd all be a lot better off," the lawyer says. "This is not about the parents. This is about the child."
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