It's hard enough trying to make ends meet in this economy as it is. So imagine being a single parent, trying to provide for your children when your ex owes you thousands of dollars in back child support. That's a reality for many single mothers in our viewing area, and in tonight's Troubleshooters report, we're taking a closer look at what it's like for them.
Kristine Gaston is owed about $13,000 in back child support from the fathers of two of her children. She's been waiting on the money for years. So long, in fact, that her children are now grown. Adding to the hardship, her 20-year-old daughter had a child of her own when she was 15, and the two of them now live with Gaston, too. Paying the bills without the money she's owed is not easy.
"Me and my husband now, we work two jobs a piece just to make ends meet," Gaston said.
Gaston said her exes have skirted the system to avoid having to pay her. That's a common complaint from mothers who call our newsroom fed up with a child support enforcement system that they say simply doesn't work.
The state of North Carolina handled more than 426,000 child support cases last year and collected about $700 million in child support payments. But when you break that down, it's only about $1,600 per case. That's not a lot of money when you consider what it costs to raise a child.
Child support enforcement officials say it can be an uphill battle to collect payments.
"It just depends on the absent parent's situation: whether he's unemployed, decreased in work hours," Judy McArn of Child Support Enforcement said. "There are those who work just daily jobs and get paid cash under the table."
One of Gaston's exes is on disability and only has to pay $32 a month toward the thousands he owes. She says at this rate, she'll be dead before she gets paid back.
So what advice does she have for people who have yet to have kids to avoid the same fate?
"Make sure they're married," Gaston said. "Only thing I can tell you. Make sure they're married., 'cause it's hard when you're a single mom."
Besides garnishing wages, unemployment and disability checks, the state can also garnish your tax refund to collect money that's owed in back child support. You can also be put in jail or have your driver license revoked for failure to pay, but moms we talk to say those penalties are not enforced as often as they should be.