"I'm scared about the publicity," says Sharon Brundle-Drown. "But this is happening to too many children. I just know my kids aren't the only ones. I'm always meeting other custodial parents who don't get enough child support.
"And I wonder why no one is speaking up?"At any rate, Brundle-Drown says, she dares to discuss child support - which has the potential to be a pretty unpleasant topic, as anyone who attended the 1988 Child Support Judicial Task Force hearings can attest. She'll talk about other issues facing children of divorce as well.
Brundle-Drown is starting a Utah chapter of the Association of Children for Enforcement of Support. ACES was founded in 1984 by Geraldine Jensen and has chapters in 37 states. Brundle-Drown defines ACES as "a self-help, nonprofit national organization dedicated to assisting disadvantaged children affected by parents who fail to meet legal and moral child support and visitation obligations."
Jensen called Brundle-Drown and interviewed her before accepting her as the national organization's choice for local president. "Geraldine told me it's not just my kids. That their story isn't really that important. What's important is that we increase the public awareness of a problem many children have. My children are an American statistic."
Brundle-Drown says, "The first ACES meeting is in the Whitmore Library auditorium, 2197 E. 70th South, Jan. 10 at 7:30 p.m. We'll be organizing ourselves and will have a lawyer talking about legal problems of divorce.
"We are going to have some speakers down the road on talking about problems with visitation, single parenting and how much to include children in court actions. ACES really comes at issues from the children's side."
Brundle-Drown first read about ACES several years ago in a women's magazine.
"I had just gotten a divorce. I called ACES in Ohio for help. They gave me ideas and encouraged me to not stop trying to get more support - even though it's such a big struggle.
"I never thought about starting a chapter in Utah at the time."
During the past three years as a single parent, Brundle-Drown learned some things: Who to call if your children's support payments are late, for example. And about Legal Aid. And, she learned, Sandy City will waive recreation and sports fees for your children if your income is low enough.
"I wish I'd known about that before. This is the first time in three years my kids have played sports. They did so well in baseball.
"I've worked so hard for so long. That's where talking to other parents could help us all," Brundle-Drown says.
She decided the path would be easier for custodial parents if they could walk together sometimes. And she decided the vehicle for them to get together would be a chapter of ACES, since the most helpful suggestions she's heard have come from the organization. "They give you samples of complaint letters. Tell you who to talk to if you feel your (legal) case isn't getting looked at. They let you know the rights of children," Brundle-Drown says.
For example: "Children do have the right to support from both parents. Emotional and financial support."
She doesn't envision ACES as opposing local groups like Parents for Children (composed mainly of noncustodial fathers and second wives). ACES encourages custodial mothers to make it easy for children and fathers to visit each other, even when fathers are behind in child support payments.
"You want your children to have two parents," says Brundle-Drown. "That's why people stay in bad marriages for a long time. When divorce has to happen, though, it ought to be easier on children.
"Did you know the standard of living for mothers and children goes down 73 percent and the standard of living for fathers goes up 42 percent after a divorce?
"My children are living that American statistic."
Hers are four among 15 million American children who live in a home without a father. Hers are among the lucky one-third who received child support last year.
But the $75 per month per child that the court awarded is not enough, she explains. The children's father wasn't working at the time of the divorce. The judge told her to ask for an increase in child support when he was working.
She did. Nearly a year ago. Because she relies on Legal Aid and "they are overworked and bogged down," and he has a "fancy" lawyer who has delayed things, she says, the judge hasn't heard her case.
Her children's father hasn't submitted his financial declaration yet, but she knows he's a computer engineer in San Jose. She knows he has eight years of college and she has one. "I think he can pay more support."
Since her divorce, Brundle-Drown has come to think of herself as the only parent her children can really count on financially - to provide food, shelter and clothing. Because their father lives in California, she is also the parent they count on for emotional support.
In providing the financial support, Brundle-Drown says, she has to come up short for her children on the emotional front. They don't have enough time together.
(She works two jobs. She puts in 40 hours a week at a day-care center - making $4 an hour, no insurance - and an extra 10 or 20 hours a week - also at $4 - as a grocery store checker.)
Catch-22: Because she is trying to provide the most stable emotional environment possible for the children, she is short-changing their future, and her own, financially.
"I've had so many people tell me to quit work and go back to college. If I did that I'd have to get more assistance from the state than I'm getting now. I don't want to do that. And I'd lose the house. Maybe I'd be better off in the long run. But I feel like the biggest security my kids could have right now is just staying where they are. In the house, in the neighborhood, in the schools that they know.
"My house doesn't have a thousand square feet. I have one bathroom and three small bedrooms and a living room and kitchen. I've had people tell me to cut down. I'd be cutting down my kids' lives. I think they deserve this house.
"When you get a divorce everybody expects the children's standard of living should just evaporate. No one expects the father to change his lifestyle.
"I've also had people tell me to get remarried. Everybody has a cure-all."
Brundle-Drown's idea of a cure-all is collecting child support due ("Do you know there's $192 million in back child support owed to the children of Utah?") and awarding more realistic amounts in the first place.
This is not just a problem for children who live with mothers.
"I know a man whose wife left him with five kids and doesn't pay anything. I see him in the store when one of them has the chicken pox. He misses work and buys medicine, just like I do."
Since she's become involved with ACES, she says, she's not so angry at the children's father. He is only mirroring the general attitude of society. "We say in Utah how much we value our children? It's all talk. My kids should be getting more support."
She's angry, not at a person, but at a legal system content to let her four children live a life much poorer than their father's.
"When my children hug me and say, `Do you have to go to work again tonight?' I say, `When we get an increase in child support I can quit one of my jobs.' Maybe I should try to hide my anger. But my kids are smart. Do you think I can hide from them how I feel?"