Calling youngster assist funds ‘authorized blackmail’, Huntington Beach man needs to reform the regulation – Orange County Register

Steve Clark pays his ex-wife $1,000 a month in child support. And he may have to do that for a long time.

“This is legal blackmail,” he scolded.

So the Huntington Beach resident is at it again — banging on the sidewalk to get enough signatures to make his grievance in the 2020 California election. To meet this goal, Clark must report 623,212 registered voters by February 3.

  • Huntington Beach resident Steve Clark is renewing a campaign to give voters a say in state divorce and spousal support laws. An initiative proposed by Clark would prevent judges from ordering someone to pay child support to his or her divorced spouse for more than five years. He must collect signatures from 623,212 registered voters by February 3, 2020 to qualify the initiative for voting. Photographed at his home in Huntington Beach on Wednesday, August 21, 2019. (Photo by Kevin Sullivan, Orange County Register/SCNG)

  • Lea Clark with boyfriend Conor Holler in an undated...

    Lea Clark with boyfriend Conor Holler in an undated photo. Lea’s father, Huntington Beach resident Steve Clark, is renewing a campaign to give voters a say in state divorce and spousal support laws. An initiative proposed by Steve Clark would prevent judges from ordering someone to pay alimony to his or her divorced spouse for more than five years. He must collect signatures from 623,212 registered voters by February 3, 2020 to qualify the initiative for voting. Photo was copied in Huntington Beach on Wednesday, August 21, 2019. (Photo by Kevin Sullivan, Orange County Register/SCNG)

  • Huntington Beach resident Steve Clark is renewing a campaign to...

    Huntington Beach resident Steve Clark is renewing a campaign to give voters a say in state divorce and spousal support laws. An initiative proposed by Clark would prevent judges from ordering someone to pay child support to his or her divorced spouse for more than five years. He must collect signatures from 623,212 registered voters by February 3, 2020 to qualify the initiative for voting. Photographed at his home in Huntington Beach on Wednesday, August 21, 2019. (Photo by Kevin Sullivan, Orange County Register/SCNG)

As Clark learned in his 2015 attempt, it’s difficult to grab the attention of 5% of California voters — especially on an issue as sensitive as child support reform. He did not manage to collect enough signatures for his measure.

“Men are reluctant to stop at our booth and sign the petition when their wives are with them, but some have looked back and given a ‘thumbs up,'” he said.

Titled “Elimination of Open Ended Alimony,” the initiative would limit child support payments to a maximum of five years. Current California law provides that alimony obligations for marriages of 10 years or more can continue indefinitely until a judge rules otherwise.

Clark plans to roll out paid advertisers in malls across the state – a strategy that would cost millions. “I hope to catch the attention of a billionaire unhappy with high child support payments,” he said.

The mission began with the breakdown of his 24-year marriage. Clark’s then-wife, Cindy, filed for divorce, but the decision was mutual, he said.

“We’re not filled with animosity,” Clark said. “Our only bone of contention is alimony.”

After the divorce became final in 2013, Clark paid child support for a time until his daughter Lea turned 18. That was never a problem, he assured. It writes his ex’s checks, which he hates.

Cindy Clark could not be reached for comment. The couple’s daughter said she is close to both parents and remains “neutral” about her father’s anti-child support activism.

“I commend my dad for trying to change something he doesn’t agree with instead of just complaining,” said Lea Clark, 23, a clinical assistant in Boise, Idaho. “I’m trying to stay on the sidelines on this subject. Each case is different depending on the circumstances.”

An aerospace engineer and consultant, Clark, 58, bought his ex-wife out of their upscale home — where mostly blank walls and bare countertops reflect his professed intolerance of clutter.

Clark’s ex-wife works as a dental hygienist, a job she held part-time while their daughter was growing up.

“That was her choice,” Clark said, calling the mommy track an “investment decision.”

“But now she’s back full-time and has the potential to make $100,000 a year,” he added.

Clark declined to provide his own annual income.

Child support payments, Clark says, are “a holdover from the 1950s” when fewer women worked outside the home. “It used to be reasonable because the government didn’t want welfare for women,” he said.

Now that more women are contributing to the labor force, Clark pointed out, child support payments are going down both ways — depending on the higher wage earner.

“Imagine if you had a cheating husband and then had to pay him child support,” he said. “How insulting that would be.”

On his website, calimonyreform.org, Clark lists the five “principles” of his cause. These include: “Every able-bodied and capable person over the age of 18 is expected to be self-sufficient” and “People must be held accountable for the investment decisions of their own lives.”

Dana Heyde, who administers family law in Orange, agreed that alimony payments “should not be viewed as some sort of pension issue” which remains unchanged in perpetuity.

“It’s not like winning the lottery,” said Heyde. “You don’t get child support just because you’ve put up with your spouse all these years.”

But she added that alimony payments serve an important purpose and “should not be governed by an arbitrary time limit.”

“You can already go to court at any time and request an adjustment to your maintenance payments,” said Heyde. “On the one hand, maintenance is based on need, on the other hand, on ability to pay.”

For example, she said, if the person receiving child support gets a higher-paying job or if the person paying child support loses their job, a judge can decide to reduce or stop the payments.

“Alimony is about creating a level playing field so people can get back on their feet,” Heyde said.

And childcare still falls disproportionately on women — those most likely to reduce hours, Heyde found.

“I’ve heard a lot of men say, ‘She decided to put her career on hold to raise the kids,'” Heyde said. “Well, he benefited too. The children’s extracurricular activities and doctor’s appointments are also the father’s responsibility.”

Such arguments fail to sway Clark, who views alimony as “welfare.”

“I fund my ex-wife’s weekends,” he said. “No one could explain to me how that makes sense.”

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