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Deadbeat parents steal from their children’s future

Evan Musikantow, who's charged in federal court with being a deadbeat dad. | Scottsdale, Arizona, arrest photo

It boggles my mind that last year in Illinois, parents owed almost $900 million in child support.

That’s the 10th-biggest total in the country, according to the federal Office of Child Support Enforcement.

Chicago Sun-Times reporter Frank Main reported Evan Musikantow, 52, the son of Applebee’s franchise mogul was indicted in federal court last week for owing $758,350 in child support.

How does someone who comes from that kind of money skip out on paying child support?

And Musikantow isn’t even the state’s top scofflaw. That dishonor goes to Michael Staisil, who is listed on the state’s website of “Deadbeats Most Wanted List,” as owing $5.2 million to one child.

Shouldn’t he be under the jail by now?

OPINION

These are huge sums, and likely mean that the children involved are living at a standard far below that of the noncustodial parent.

And while Illinois officials boast that to date it has collected more than $2 million from deadbeat dads, that’s just a drop in the bucket when compared to what children are owed.

The arrearage also takes a toll on the custodial parent who has to provide the child’s day-to-day needs.

Michael Staisil owes 5.2 million in support for one child, according to Illinois Department of Healthcare and Family Services
Michael Staisil owes 5.2 million in support for one child, according to Illinois Department of Healthcare and Family Services

Recently, I got a tearful call from a woman I profiled in 2015. At that time, she was trying to get away from her husband whom she alleged was abusive.

She was finally granted a divorce in 2017, and her ex-husband was ordered to pay $1,000 month for two children, ages 14 and 12.

She alleges the dad is now $8,000 in arrears in child support and refuses to follow other obligations in the divorce decree.

“What am I supposed to do now, “ she said her voice cracking, “These kids need school supplies and clothes and the court isn’t making him pay this money.”

Worse yet, this mother is prohibited from leaving Illinois to relocate to a city where she has a support system that includes her mother.

As a minimum-wage earner, she cannot possibly sustain her family without child support.

But apparently while Illinois is “very strong for child support collection,” according to the illinoisdivorce.com website, a stunning number of parents are delinquent on child support.

The delinquent list includes a guy living in Des Moines, Iowa, owing $712,401; a former NBA player owing $761,996; a man in Mount Prospect owing $775,480.

Under Illinois law, there is no statute of limitations on child support collection.

Additionally, child support obligations automatically become judgments, and a deadbeat’s driving privileges can be suspended when child support is more than 90 days past due.

But enforcing these laws takes legal representation and a lot of persistence.

In Illinois, the minimum amount of child support for two children is 28 percent.

But for many custodial parents, when they factor in the time they have to take off work to go to court, legal fees, and child care costs, pursuing a deadbeat hardly seems worth it.

It is also humiliating to stand in a courtroom and ask a judge to make the father of your child provide the bare minimum.

I’ve talked to women who pursued child support unsuccessfully for decades while their children suffered the consequences.

There also seems to be a misperception about court-ordered child support.

Recently, what started out as a casual conversation about child support involving a nephew who is the unmarried father of two boys led to a heated debate.

My nephew is a doting father. He and his sons’ mother have been together for nearly a decade and when you see him, you see his sons.

A group of relatives were sitting around talking, when the subject of child support came up. My nephew was adamant that he “takes care of his children.”

“The court shouldn’t be able to tell me how much money I have to pay,” he argued.

His resentment was surprising.

Court-ordered child support isn’t about providing for an ex-partner’s lifestyle.

It is about providing children with the same level of financial support they would have had, had their parents stayed together.

It should be a lot easier for custodial parents to collect delinquent child support because, frankly, someone who isn’t paying child support isn’t likely to give his child emotional support either.