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Changing the culture of child support enforcement

Mecklenburg County issued a press release regarding their Responsible Fatherhood Initiative on April 9, 2014
Mecklenburg County issued a press release regarding their Responsible Fatherhood Initiative on April 9, 2014Courtesy of Gary Black, Mecklenburg County Public Information

On April 9, 2014, Examiner spoke with Arvis Williams with Mecklenburg County Child Support Enforcement about efforts the department is making to educate fathers regarding their rights in child support and custody matters. MCCSE wants fathers to have an active role in their children's lives, and alleviate the fear and adversarial view associated with the department. For the past three years, volunteers have worked to improve the relationship between MCCSE and noncustodial parents.

Most often, men are noncustodial parents due to being critically unaware of their rights as parents. Moreover, men typically have not been educated on what it means to be a legal father in the sense of signing affidavits of paternity and/or being adjudicated the legal father through court order. Many "putative" fathers are convinced that DNA has the final say in matters involving legal paternity versus biological paternity.

Too often, people wait years before determining biological paternity, and it may be too late to correct it legally. "It is important for many reasons to establish paternity early on," said Williams.

Twice each year, in March or April and August, MCCSE notifies men who are new to their system, and have not yet had paternity established, of an orientation program that offers legal education, DNA testing, and employment assistance. On April 10, 2014 at 5:30 p.m., as part of its Responsible Fatherhood initiative, the MCCSE will host an orientation program with male volunteers from the SelfService Center, MCCSE, the North Carolina Employment Security Commission, and The Children's Home Society, as well as a local attorney.

Williams had this to say about the department's efforts to change the perception of child support enforcement among noncustodial parents:

We want to make them a participant, as opposed to a spectator just watching what goes on in their case. The [negative] perception [of child support enforcement] has to change. It is getting better. This is not a woman bashing session. It is actually beneficial to the mothers when fathers are involved. Most importantly, a father who is confident and secure in his relationship with his child, is more likely to financially support and, better still, provide social, emotional and psychological support to his child.

Williams went on to discuss how having fathers play an active role in custody alleviates noncompliance and the need for child support enforcement involvement. "It is beneficial to all parties involved, the department, the custodial parent and most importantly the child," said Williams.

The event will take place on the second floor of 5800 Executive Center Drive in Charlotte, North Carolina. The program will include:

  • An attorney familiar with child support and custody laws to answer any legal questions at no cost.
  • Male caseworkers to explain how the child support system works, the rights and responsibilities of non-custodial parents, and other issues involving the CSE process.
  • A representative from the SelfService Center that can help with applying for child custody/visitation.
  • Addressing the inability of fathers to get gainful employment, and resume writing assistance from the North Carolina Employment Security Commission.
  • The Children's Home Society working with males who have physical custody of their children ages 0-5 to provide parenting assistance and information.
  • DNA testing at low cost. Men who are determined to not be biological fathers will pay no costs, biological fathers will pay a low cost.
  • Giveaways of ties and dress shirts to help men preparing to dress well for job interviews.

Why was this initiative important to the organizers?

We wanted to bring resources to fathers, and let them know they are as valuable as the mother.

It has been proven time and time again that a noncustodial parent who is involved in the life of a child on a regular and consistent basis is more likely to provide financial support for that child without continued court involvement. Unlike with married couples, when a child is born to unmarried persons legal paternity is not established by virtue of birth. Legal paternity is established either through judicial procedure and adjudication or by signing an affidavit of paternity. The legal obligations of a father begin through establishing paternity.

Often the fear associated with child support enforcement causes men to avoid responding to court notices and creates more legal trouble for them than they could possibly realize. It is better to educate oneself and be present than to allow someone to make a decision for you without your input.

If you would like more information about the orientation event and to learn how you may take part in upcoming events, contact Arvis Williams at 704-432-9230.

A special thank you to Gary Black with Mecklenburg County's Public Information Department for assistance with this article.