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Documentary looks at race within the child support system

According to a study by the Urban Institute, the income of parents who owe 70 percent of child support debt ranges from $0 to under $10,000 annually. Filmmaker Rel Dowdell says that many of these parents are African-American men who suffer disproportionately under the child support system, and their children in turn suffer as well. Some Ohio parents may struggle with these issues.

Dowdell's documentary, "Where's Daddy?", examines this problem. He has identified a number of hurdles for African-American fathers starting with an inability to get good legal representation going into a child support hearing. This results in the father not knowing how the system works and that he can request a modification due to a financial downturn.

Fathers may be consumed by shame and guilty over the problems that arise as a result of their financial issues. Their debt may cause penalties, such as losing a driver's license or being jailed, that can make the problems worse. Both of these can mean a job loss and less access to their children. Dowdell argues that flaws in the system can driver a bigger wedge between parents and children, and children stand to be hurt the most.

For these reasons, it is important for parents to understand their rights and responsibilities within the child support system. An attorney may assist parents in this regard. The attorney can also assist in negotiations about parenting time and support. There are advantages to having a formal child custody and support agreement in place because it gives a parent tools to enforce these agreements if the other parent does not follow them.

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