This one just makes you cry. Then it makes you angry. Then it makes you cry some more.
Lionel Campbell says he’s just learned he’s been paying child support for a child who died 25 years ago. Here’s the story from the Indy Channel in Detroit. The child, Michael Campbell, died at the age of three from acute meningitis. The Friend of the Court kept assessing Dad for child support, because it never received word that the child had died, and Dad kept paying it.
Campbell, the father, says he assumed the payments were to cover an arrearage on the child support he owed for his older child, so he never questioned the payments. Only recently did Campbell decide that surely his years of payments must have been more than enough to cover the child support for the older child. When he inquired about his account, he learned that the child support payments he had made included support for the child who had been dead for years.
So far so bad. Then it gets worse. Campbell first was told he still owed $43,000 for his older child. He requested several audits, each one resulting in a lower balance owed. Most recently, Friend of the Court has set the amount he owes at $6,460.08. That eight cents gives us assurance, of course, that this time they’re right. You believe that, don’t you?
Lesson for Payors
I think this sad, and outrageous, and sad case offers a lesson for people paying child support, particularly when they’re doing it pursuant to a court process: you need to understand the basis of your payment, how much of it is allocated to support, how much to interest or penalties, and how the balances allocable to each child are changing as you pay. If you don’t understand it, it’s not okay. Keep asking questions – politely but firmly – until you understand how your payment is being calculated. If Lionel Campbell had done that 20 years ago, he would be a considerably more wealthy man today.
Lesson for Lawyers
I think there’s an opportunity here. If you’re a family lawyer with experience in child services, particularly if your experience included the calculation of child support arrearages, I think there’s a marketing niche available to you. You could set up the software that allows you to check the child support calculations performed by child services. Once you take the time to set it up, you could perform a private child support audit at a comparatively low cost.
And you would have grateful clients. It’s widely acknowledged that child service frequently makes errors, but I know of no evidence that those errors are typically in one direction or another. That is, if you’re paying child support pursuant to an income withholding order, there’s a high probability that the calculations about your payment are wrong, but the error is just likely to be in your favor as to be against you. So you could invest in a private audit conducted by your counsel, who would keep your audit confidential if you’re underpaying and support you with child support if you’re paying too much.