Pay all you can pay, father of two
March 15, 2006 5:11 PM   Subscribe

If you owe a bunch of back child-support (14 years for the older child, three years for the second, two different women), are married to a woman you could take or leave (not the mother of either), have no custody of the children, have never met the second child, have had no contact with the first for the past ten years, would like to begin to become current with past due payments, would like a closer relationship with your children, don't want to go to jail, don't consider yourself to be someone having a strong job skill-set, are currently unemployed {leisurely, if not pleasantly, subject to the arbitrary whims of said spouse [of which include no requirements for earning an income (lots of time to play video games, watch movies, and think)]}, don't believe you can support yourself alone with the work that you believe you can find, are afraid to find a job, move out, lose the maximum in state-mandated garnishments from each check, fail again and end up living with/under someone else, would like to learn and travel, wouldn't mind medical, dental, vision and life insurance, could use a retirement fund; would enlisting in the US Army be a strategically effective next action?

My friend writes me:

"If you can help me figure out another way that I can work without needing to pay for rent, food, clothes, or any other basic living costs while getting medical, dental, vision, life and a retirement plan please let me know. I would love to walk out of here [current marriage] this fall and not need to take anything but some clothes and a few items I'm fond of and not have to look back knowing that I have a job waiting for me, a paycheck I don't need for living costs as well as learning a trade and for the first time in my life, be on my own and never have to ask anyone for anything."

From what I've heard, soldiers still get banged for child support with a regularity, and the Army doesn't pay that well. He's thirty-three or four, not much time left to enlist. The recruiter says that this will kill seven insurgents with one smart bomb. Could that be true? Any creative suggestions?
posted by airguitar to Work & Money (45 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I'd go Navy.
posted by mr_roboto at 5:17 PM on March 15, 2006

I'd go Air Force.

Or was your entire question just a metaphor for the current state of the United States and the possible motivations for our starting the current war in Iraq?
posted by JekPorkins at 5:20 PM on March 15, 2006

The only other options that pop to mind, when it comes to providing all basic life necessities, would be prison, the priesthood, or the Peace Corps.

I have no personal experience with any of the above options--but I'd probably opt for the Peace Corps.
posted by divka at 5:22 PM on March 15, 2006

I had a friend who joined the Army hoping to get out of paying child support.

As soon as his wife found out, she complained to the recruiter who signed him up, who promptly reported him - and then they started taking the child support out of his paycheck every month.
posted by bradth27 at 5:25 PM on March 15, 2006

Response by poster: Or was your entire question just a metaphor...

Would that it were, no seriously, he keeps telling me he doesn't have any other options, and I'm like, well, try this, try that. Nope. But then at the same time he says, well, I don't really want to be all I can be, I'm happy with who I am, but I'm stuck here... So there. I mean, does the Service put a stay on Child Support payments, is this like an estate planning move?

...and then they started taking the child support out of his paycheck every month.

Well I guess not.
posted by airguitar at 5:29 PM on March 15, 2006

He could see if his skills (whatever they may be) fall in line with anything suitable for Antarctic Base work. Raytheon Polar Ops used to manage the bases there, I don't know if they still do.

It isn't all science work, they hire kitchen staff, etc. Better than the army and a shorter contract.
posted by necessitas at 5:29 PM on March 15, 2006

Yeesh, I've got to bookmark this so I can come back and read it the next time I'm depressed about my life.

Army: The Army will *absolutely* enforce any sort of court-ordered payment against you with wage garnishments. As soon as the ex-wives find out, they will have no trouble at all getting a chunk of your paycheck for as long as you remain in the Army. With 14 years of back support owed, your Army paycheck won't make much of a dent in the sum, either.

I'm going to skip any moralizing about child support since I figure you'll get enough of it from others. I'll just say I agree with what they're going to say.
posted by jellicle at 5:30 PM on March 15, 2006

If the guy is on the level, then he doesn't have to find a way to sneak out of paying child support, he wants to go legit, correct? I find your question pretty difficult to follow, but yeah the Army or Navy (I've heard better things about the Navy) or Coast Guard might be a better angle than jail or whatever he is doing now. There will be some job training. There might be some money for school. There might be some discipline which, from a quick read of this guy's situation, might help him make some future plans that would be more to his liking.

Additionally, veteran's health care benefits and retirement, assuming he survives, are not great but better than a total absence of both of those things. In short, while I wouldn't recommend anyone join the army or navy under normal circumstances, it's not a completely awful idea for your friends. Maybe he could work on a few stages of his troubles (getting in touch with his kids and trying to relate to them, for example) before he makes the big step of leaving his relationship and possibly the country.
posted by jessamyn at 5:33 PM on March 15, 2006

Air Force is crowded-if he wants to do that he needs to talk to a recruiter NOW and be willing to wait a few months before heading to basic, depending on what job he goes for.

If what you are saying is that he DOES want to pay for child support, Army is probably his best option. And for some jobs there are probably big signing bonuses, which could be very useful in getting caught up with the child support.

Be aware that recruiters can and do lie, and get everything in WRITING. VERY important. Recruiter can promise anything but only what is in writing will hold up.
posted by konolia at 5:33 PM on March 15, 2006

Response by poster: I'm going to skip any moralizing...

Drop all you want on me, I got no kids. And you missed the part about never seeing the second one. Neither of these mothers are ex-wives. The first woman is a girl he dated for a few months in high school and the second he knew for a couple weeks, it was a fling, a little affair until the mother-person flipped out, stole his movie collection, ran up a $900 phone bill on calls to Japan, bailed on her roomates (my friends) and ran off to a meditation camp somewhere in three states away. (four months later, phone rings, hey, guess what?) He's never seen her since, or the son ever. He's just been getting lots of paperwork.
posted by airguitar at 5:43 PM on March 15, 2006

Would enrolling in Truck Driving School be an option. The school would probably cost something but there have to be loans for that. Once you're on the road, just never stop driving. Live on the road.
posted by pwb503 at 5:48 PM on March 15, 2006

Well, has he gotten paternity tests? At least for the second child?
posted by loquax at 5:50 PM on March 15, 2006

Truck driver in Iraq, perhaps? I hear it pays well, and I bet they put you up.
posted by nyterrant at 5:51 PM on March 15, 2006

Response by poster: paternity: positive
posted by airguitar at 5:54 PM on March 15, 2006

I'm thinking commercial fishing in Alaska or New England.
posted by frogan at 5:54 PM on March 15, 2006

Or working an oil rig. Or commercial diving school.
posted by frogan at 5:55 PM on March 15, 2006

If he wants to disappear completely, I think frogan's on to something.
posted by Alt F4 at 6:05 PM on March 15, 2006

I don't know if this sounds obvious, but your friend should talk to a family law lawyer. Some lawyers do not charge for an initial consultation, and will be able to give your friend some options about ways to go about doing what he wants to do.
I am not a lawyer, but I work for one, and she would probably have some great suggestions for a potential client in a similar situation.

From what you've written, it sounds like your friend is lolooking to get some structure that will keep him from slacking off the way he has lately, and get a fresh start. Army would give him that, but it certainly wouldn't be a good way to foster a "closer relationship" with his children.

My suggestion is that if he really does want to get to know his kids, he should look into getting a steady local job and take some classes to learn a trade (x-ray technicians make good money, I hear) and if his child support payments are too much for his income, he should talk to a lawyer about how he could get the payments lowered.

On preview: ok, it doesn't sound so much like he cares about the kids, he just cares about keeping Dept of Revenue off his back. But I still think job/training/lawyer is a good combination.
posted by Sprout the Vulgarian at 6:06 PM on March 15, 2006

Response by poster: it doesn't sound so much like he cares about the kids

I believe he does. I can only speak so much for someone else, but he has said as much to me.
posted by airguitar at 6:10 PM on March 15, 2006

So what's his main goal here? To leave his current wife? Get closer to his kids? Not have to pay child support?

If it were me, the first thing I'd do is move near my kids (hopefully they're geographically close to one another) and figure things out from there.

Joining the army or starting any other far-away job will only keep him away from the kids, and eventually he'll be old and really, really regret it. He's already got a teenager he's not seen for at least 10 years, and another one he's not seen at all. I think he needs to resolve those issues first and foremost.

I'd move near the kids, get a job and find a way to live there and start a relationship with them. No skills? Work at McDonald's. If that's not enough money, work at Wendy's at night. There are ways to make it happen.

He has two kids who need a dad. Is anyone else creeped out that the two kids probably don't even know one another exist?

So I say, move to where the kids are, and figure everything else out from there.
posted by b_thinky at 6:16 PM on March 15, 2006

Welding school? It looks like becoming a master welder costs $10,000-plus, but it also looks like financial aid and grants are plentiful. And once you're done, it's decent money. I believe there's demand for welders on oil rigs.
posted by Airhen at 6:26 PM on March 15, 2006

If one of his serious goals is to be closer emotionally to his kids, then armed forces, and log haul trucking as suggested here are completely crappy ideas. Taking him further away from the kids is not going to help him be a father.

This is being said as the child of a long haul trucker/mining camp worker.
posted by Kickstart70 at 6:27 PM on March 15, 2006

I hate the armed forces in theory but I spent six months with the British Navy (as an outsider, making a film) and it looked like a hell of a life to me. Some of the nicest people I've ever met. I imagine the US Navy is rather different but still.
posted by unSane at 6:27 PM on March 15, 2006

frogan beat me to the Alaska fishing boat suggestion. Heard it pays $10-$12,000 for a summer (though if the catch is really bad, it can pay much less, double-check me on this). You don't get much sleep. People sometimes get washed off the boat.
posted by salvia at 6:37 PM on March 15, 2006

I got the impression that he's aware that any paycheck he gets will be snatched to pay support, which is why the Army looks attractive: they pay for room & board, plus insurance & the like. If he gets a straight job, he'll be working for the support with very little left to rent an apartment and buy food, let alone see a doctor if necessary.

The problem as I see it is that because the Army hooks you up with most expenses, the take-home pay is for shit. If it's enough to get current with the support (say, by the time his enlistment is up he's back to even), then it doesn't sound like a bad way. Surely not the only way, but it might be good for your man.
posted by Banky_Edwards at 6:42 PM on March 15, 2006

So here's the thing, while I think it sounds like a good idea in theory (I have had several brothers-in-law for whom the Air Force did wonders), if this guy's attitude is "I don't really want to be all I can be" -- I don't think that is going to fly real well in the armed forces. If he can get in the right mindset and really make a go of a career in the service, then I think it is a good approach, but if he's looking to take the same attitude to the Army that he currently seems to have about life in general, well I don't think adding a dishonorable discharge on top of his other crap is going to help.
posted by Rock Steady at 6:43 PM on March 15, 2006

While the Army (or Navy which is considerably safer these days) is one way to earn money (with benefits), get some discipline, and start paying off child support, it sounds more like he's trying to run away from his problems, figuring "anything has to be better than this." Joining the military is a big commitment, it isn't something to do on a whim. You can't just decide that you aren't happy anymore and try to bail on that (intentionally screwing up to get out can lead to a dishonorable discharge, which will haunt him for a long time).

The Army doesn't pay spectacularly well (see these charts), but does help cover housing and related expenses. He can expect to have his paychecks garnished.

He's going to be in trouble if he's not a fan of taking orders, being the low man on the totem pole, moving around a lot (to places not of his choosing). His recruiter will likely stretch the truth a bit (guaranteeing a particular job or location) and he should definitely get everything in writing. Has he taken the ASVAB yet? If he didn't score well, he'll have a lower likelihood of getting many desirable jobs. If he's had any legal problems in the past, those could complicate matters (ranging from making him ineligibal to requiring a waiver). Does his lifestyle include the use of recreational drugs? That could stop things dead in their tracks.

Sounds like he'll have to get a divorce before enlisting. That could take a while, further compllicating things.

On the other hand, it could straighten him out, give him a career, instill some discipline, and make his kids proud. People join the Army for plenty of reasons, but regardless of why they join, the decision to do so is something to be respected.
posted by i love cheese at 6:48 PM on March 15, 2006

I'd try the Air Force first, then the Army. Many people dow well who cannot otherwise make it in society. He'll still have to pay the child support, and I would guess want talk to a lawyer about trying to work out a deal to forgive some of the earlier debt in exchange for making current payments.

There are a lot of jobs in the Army, and with a little effort and research he could find one that'll be easy and safe, if that's what he wants.

Forget commercial dive school. Working offshore in other jobs is okay, but rises and falls with the price of oil.

The biggest drawback about the Army I can see for your friend is that it is filled with young people who often don't find constructive things to do with their time. Your buddy could easily fall into a routine of getting blasted every weekend.
posted by atchafalaya at 7:18 PM on March 15, 2006


Would that it were, no seriously, he keeps telling me he doesn't have any other options, and I'm like, well, try this, try that. Nope.

First off, it sounds like he's depressed, and he should see someone about that; when you're depressed, only the worst options seem possible, and everything else is rejected out of hand.

Assuming he can get his spirits up, here's the order I'd recommend:

#1: Walk away from the current marriage before kids accidentally happen (he doesn't seem to have a good track record avoiding 'em, after all) and get a very inexpensive apartment -- the kind that is small and amenity-less, so he will be motivated to leave as often as possible, yet still provides a safe place for his important stuff and a nice quiet sleeping area. Note: if he gets cable hooked up, or brings a TV or video games into the house, he's already missing the point.

#2: Find a good, solid job within walking or biking (if he has a bike) distance, then sell his car (if he has one). Work as often as possible; two jobs would be better than one.

#3: Figure out exactly how much money he owes for child support, and figure out how much he'll need to make and send per month to catch up with it in a reasonable time frame -- let's say a year. That might mean he has to eat nothing but rice, instant mashed potatos, lentils and such for a year*, but with a small enough rent, no cable/car/etc expenses, and a steady job (or two) of any kind, this should be possible.

#3.5: No booze, no pot, nothing that's a downer. This is going to be hard enough without those weighing on him and eating his cash.

#4: Once he's caught up on child support and not before, he should start trying to improve his relationship with his kids. He shouldn't expect them to appreciate his getting up-to-date on the payments, or in fact to appreciate seeing him at all -- just because he wants to see them is no guarantee it will be reciprocated. If the kids want it, he'll have the opportunity for a great relationship, and if they don't, he'll be able to know without guilt that they'd rather not see him, so he doesn't have any non-financial responsibility to them going forward**.

#5: At this point, he's out of debt, out of marriage, and his expenses have just dropped because he's only paying the current child support instead of both current and back child support. In effect, he now has a raise. He can get a better apartment, or improve his eating habits, or quit one of the jobs, or save money for something bigger -- but the important thing is, one year or so and five specific steps later, he's back on track with his life and can do anything he wants to.

Now, he could accomplish some or all of this by joining the armed forces, but here are the things that will absolutely not happen if he does***:

1. He will not get promoted into a higher-paying position;

2. He will not stumble into a job that pays considerably more than he was anticipating;

3. He will not get good treatment for his depression (in fact, since depression is often worsened by thinking you have no control over things, being in the army -- where he absolutely does not have control -- will make things much worse);

4. He will not be able to walk away from the army once all of the financial goals are achieved.

And, if he does join the army, here's what might happen:

1. He might get severly injured or killed.

That's my two cents. I wish him luck.

*I've done this; I know that it's possible to live on very little, if you avoid distracting yourself with things like TV and have no monthly bills beyond food, rent and basic medical care. If he's worried he will be bored, he should take up a musical instrument and/or get another job to fill the time, which will shorten the length of time he needs to spend doing this.

**Of course, he could still check in every year or two to see if they've changed their minds -- in a polite and passive way, of course -- and he should send birthday cards.

***No guarantee any of these will happen with the above plan, but at least they could -- 10:1 odds, or even 100:1 odds, beats the heck out of no chance at all.
posted by davejay at 7:25 PM on March 15, 2006

The biggest drawback about the Army I can see for your friend is that it is filled with young people who often don't find constructive things to do with their time.

I don't know, I'd say the biggest drawback about the Army is that enlisting in it is pretty much a guaranteed, possibly one-way ticket to Iraq. Your friend should join the Air Force unless this is exactly what he wants.

I have a couple of friends who are officers in the Air National Guard and really seem to enjoy it. If your friend isn't quite sure the full-time thing is for him, he might try that option. If he decides he likes it, he can always join the Air Force, or just request full time duty for the Guard.
posted by dseaton at 7:29 PM on March 15, 2006

If he actually cares about the kids, then he can probably get the child support level lowered by becoming more involved in the kids' lives.
posted by rdr at 7:31 PM on March 15, 2006

If you're really hankering to go there, the contractor gig in Iraq pays about ten times better than your standard issue army tour. That's not what I think of when I get the travel bug, but YMMV. You won't earn enough in the army to pay child support and be able to save anything at the same time.

rdr, it seems that the mothers of the children may have something to say about his involvement in their lives.
posted by Saucy Intruder at 7:44 PM on March 15, 2006

Sometimes when you are faced with a bad situation, it's tempting to grasp for a magic bullet. Does your friend have an interest in the military? A commitment? Cause it's not an easy life, even for the most dedicated. It's physically and psychologically demanding, particularly for the smart or independent minded.

One on my friends was so miserable, she ate her way out after being raped. Another man I know came out after becoming the camp boy whore. I know it doesn't seem that drastic, but he is straight.

I would think about the "Do I want to kill or be killed" aspect of the forces before I joined. Don't get me wrong. Many of my friends served, but on some level it has to be a self-less act.
posted by gesamtkunstwerk at 7:49 PM on March 15, 2006

If you get a job, even a 'volunteer' job, with an NGO that places you overseas in a developing country, you'll likely get your accomodation provided for you, and you'll likely earn more money than you could possibly spend.
posted by Kololo at 8:21 PM on March 15, 2006

First, your friend needs to tell his friend to learn how to write coherently. Christ, I have a headache.

Second, another poster or two mentioned oil rigs. To this I say: Fort McMurray, Alberta. There's gold in them thar hills. Seriously.
posted by raider at 8:32 PM on March 15, 2006

Tell this person to take responsibility for himself, his acts and get on with life. The military option, as is described, is only an enabler to his already less than forthright behavior. Blah blah blah.

I've worked in enough homeless shelters to have heard this same drivel before....numerous times.

In a couple of years, get him a MeFi account if he can post something along the lines of: "I made some changes...I have worked hard at what I should have done in the first place....the kids are getting a good education, although I do not see them enough, but the financial burden is worth it.....any suggestions for a vet who has some skills but alot of baggage, in continuing to get back to life?"

[insert snide, crackhead comment here]
posted by lampshade at 8:35 PM on March 15, 2006

Your friend sounds like perfect commercial fishing material, alright. However he's missed the season this year (summer is for suckers) but he might do one season next fall/winter to get some cash. There is a good chance he'd get sucked in and stay for ever though.

What I would do if I were him, and don't laugh, is get a job as a road construction flagger for the summer. They get paid like $30 and hour. State work so you get bennies. And it's easy which is good because, frankly, your friend does not sound like someone who will do anything very hard. Work 80 hours per week, live in a onsite housing, then try to get on a crew full time or look for another high paying seasonal job. Or apprentice with a trade, I hear plumbers make a fortune.

14 years of back child support is a huge amount of cash and he won't be paying it off as a GI, that's for sure. And considering that he's 34 and spends all his time playing videogames there's a decent chance the mother's won't be overjoyed to see him trying to take an interest in their children's lives. Who says these kids don't have great father figures right now?
posted by fshgrl at 9:15 PM on March 15, 2006

Fort McMurray, Alberta. There's gold in them thar hills. Seriously.

Oh shit, yes. I saw a 60 Minutes special about this. Wild opportunity there for the right person.
posted by frogan at 9:34 PM on March 15, 2006

for the first time in my life, be on my own and never have to ask anyone for anything

This is not what you get in the Armed Forces, but that's not really something you can learn by being told.
posted by ikkyu2 at 11:41 PM on March 15, 2006

1. Vasectomy. Kids he can't take care of (because he can't even take care of himself) are his biggest problem. Or, to put it honestly, the kids aren't his problem, he is theirs, unless he has stepped out of the way to make room for better dads.

2. Divorce. She doesn't need him and he doesn't need her (except, apparently, financially).

3. By the sound of it, I'm guessing he is incapable of hard work and long-term commitment. That means to forget about paying back the child support -- he won't ever make enough money -- and forget about things like the army, where they would expect him to actually get up in the morning and do stuff.

4. Move to a place that desperately needs English teachers. He might be a lousy one, but lousy might be better than nothing in some places, and he would learn. I'm thinking rural China, working in tandem with real but non-native teachers, perhaps traveling from school to school. Munching on chicken toes and sleeping on a mat. Getting paid in duck eggs and fish.

5. Learn Chinese and get a job as a translator and interpreter? Be a tour guide? Write books? Do anything but have kids?
posted by pracowity at 1:21 AM on March 16, 2006

Reading through this thread the whole time I was thinking get an English teaching job in Asia and then I see pracowity beats me to it in the last post. Boo. But seriously, if you want to disappear, just get a teaching job in China, Thailand, Vietnam...pretty much anywhere in Southeast Asia. They require little in the way of documentation or qualifications and almost always provide you with housing. Your living expenses are really low, as is are any medical costs you have. Once you're here, you can jump from job to job every semester or school year without leaving much of a trail at all. I'm pretty sure that at least a quarter of the English teachers I've met in China are here because they're running away from something back home (not necessarily on the scale we're talking about, but just something).

This would only be recommended if your friend wants to just disappear. You will not make enough money from a paycheck in a third or second world country to pay child support on. If he's in contact with his kids and not paying support you can be sure he'll be traced.
posted by riverjack at 4:43 AM on March 16, 2006

"I don't really want to be all I can be" -- I don't think that is going to fly real well in the armed forces.

In my experience, the most common reason for joining the armed forces is to holda steady job and get hopefully marketable skills. Believing the propaganda is optional.

That said, airguitar's friend may find the highly organized life of the miltary to be a viable option. How is he with following orders? Because that will be his job, and he'll be government property until his enlistment is up. He will have to give up his leisurely lifestyle and live spartan. And yes, they'll take child support out of his paycheck. The Army will send him to Iraq. He may have better luck with the Navy.
posted by desuetude at 6:40 AM on March 16, 2006

Third vote for moving to Alberta. Apparently the province's economy will not grow as fast as it could due to a lack of workers. Their current unemployment rate of 3% is considered "full employment" by economists. If you can walk, you can get a job in Alberta.
posted by GuyZero at 7:36 AM on March 16, 2006

If he's serious about wanting to have a relationship with the kids, what davejay said.

If that's mostly for show and what he really wants to do is get away from it all, what pracowity said.

And may I add that this thread turned out a hell of a lot better than I expected when I entered it. Well done, folks. (Of course, that's probably because the poster is not the one with the problem and there's no sense yelling at him.)
posted by languagehat at 8:03 AM on March 16, 2006

Faulty premise that the enlisted Army is a career -- most people who want enlisted Army careers can't get them. While the Army periodically hurts for entry-level privates, as it now is, it always, and by design, has a surplus of veteran sergeants who are bucking for the promotion that gives one a glide path to retirement at 20 years, or the option for 10 more years at the senior-most enlisted grades. Those who don't get the promotion are effectively fired, and find that the career options for ex-NCOs aren't particularly great.

You can count on a career as an Army officer, though. It's quite hard to win your commission, but if you've done it, you can usually get your 20 if that's what you want. Career options for ex-officers are very good, so the Army can rely upon voluntary resignations to trim down the ranks well before retirement eligibility.
posted by MattD at 10:11 AM on March 16, 2006

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