By Lauren Mann of the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy
A year ago, party girl Autumn was having carefree fun with her boyfriend, Dustin, and never could have imagined that she’d be "16 and Pregnant." She also couldn't have imagined that she’d be in a courtroom at 17, filing for child support because that same boyfriend wasn’t contributing to the cost of raising their child. And she’s not alone. In 2012, more than 17 million children and their parents were helped by the Office of Child Support Enforcement to receive the money they need to live healthy lives. Raising a kid isn’t cheap, but when you’re 16 and doing almost everything on your own, it’s nearly impossible.
Autumn warned Dustin that she was going to file for child support if he didn’t start helping out, at least with something as simple as diapers, but Dustin wasn’t taking his role as a father seriously enough and Autumn couldn’t keep making threats she didn’t act on. As a whopping 97 percent of readers asserted in an MTV Shows Blog poll, she had no choice but to speak to a lawyer and make it someone else’s job to hold Dustin accountable.
In their home state of Virginia, once paternity is established and a child support order is created, the non-custodial parent must pay a set amount each month based on the child’s needs and each parent’s income. This is enforced usually through income withholding, meaning part of the non-custodial parent’s paycheck is automatically taken out each month and re-directed to the parent who takes care of the child.
For parents who don’t receive a regular paycheck, those who work for cash or commission or those that are self-employed, there are other ways the payments can be enforced. For example, the delinquent parent’s state or federal tax refunds could be intercepted, the child support debts could be reported to credit monitoring agencies and any assets they have could be seized. They could even have their driver’s license suspended.
Child support is crucial. It helps pay for the basics like shelter, food, child care and transportation, and it makes a huge difference to children, so it was refreshing to see Autumn advocate for herself and Drake by taking steps to have Dustin pay his fair share. For more information on it, head to the Office of Child Support Enforcement. And, for more talk about Autumn's episode, be sure to take a look at the discussion guide from StayTeen.org.