Fresh Meadows candle vigil highlights plight of mothers

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Carrying signs reading “Do you know where our fathers are?” and other slogans, about 10 single mothers turned out Monday night for a candlelight vigil sponsored by the Association for Children for Enforcement of Support to highlight the problem of unpaid child support in Queens and throughout the country.

The vigil was held in Fresh Meadows on the corner of Horace Harding Expressway and 188th Street. Also present at the event were state Assemblyman Michael Cohen (D-Forest Hills), Fred Simmons, the director of constituent affairs for state Sen. Malcolm Smith (D-St. Albans), and the children of some of the mothers.

“May these lights continue to shine until all the children receive their support,” said Debbie Ecker, the leader of the three-year-old Queens chapter of Association for Children for Enforcement of Support, holding a candle in a paper cup.

According to ACES, a non-profit organization started in Toledo, Ohio in 1983 by a mother of two who was not receiving child support payments, $84 billion in unpaid child support is currently owed to 20 million children in the United States.

Although child support enforcement laws exist, they often do not deal with the hard-to-collect cases, said Ecker. Non-custodial parents frequently hide their assets, and the burden of proof lies upon the custodial parent to demonstrate that the other parent should be paying.

“My ex-husband seems to think he gives child support out of the goodness of his heart, not thinking that it’s the law and his responsibility to his children,” said Danette Mazzarello, a mother of four, echoing the sentiments of other mothers.

Mazzarello said it took her a year to register with the interstate child support agency after her ex-husband moved to Florida. She complained that whenever she contacted the child support agency, the employees replied by mail and told her to wait three months to see if enforcement actions had gone through.

“Before you know it, years go by,” she said. “It’s been about two years that my husband has not paid the $300 per week he’s supposed to pay.”

Anna Liu, the mother of an 11-year-old son, described a typical situation when she said her husband claimed he earned $2,400 a year even though his rent alone was $200 per month.

“It’s been going on for eight years,” said Liu. “He owes me $52,000.”

Liu’s case was made more difficult when her ex-husband moved out of state to Utah. She recently tried to serve her ex-husband papers, but child enforcement officers could not find him.

“From what I understand, this is done rather routinely, where non-custodial parents try to hide wages — they’re making $12,000 a year and drive a $50,000 car,” said Cohen. “Incongruous things like that don’t seem to have much impact on delinquent non-custodial parents.”

Both Cohen and Simmons promised to help free up $62 million that ACES representatives said had been paid to the state by non-custodial parents, but not distributed to the custodial parents.

“Minimally what I can do is put something in my newsletter informing custodial parents that they many have money deposited with the state,” said Cohen.

There are close to 400 chapters and 45,000 members of ACES in the 48 contiguous states. According to Ecker, the Queens chapter has some 400 members, 99 percent of whom are women.

Members of the Queens chapter of ACES are working with the New York City Child Support Enforcement agency to try to infuse more money into the system so that more enforcement officers can be hired.

An ACES candlelight vigil is held every year by chapters throughout the country to raise awareness for child support.

    The Queens chapter of ACES meets the first Tuesday of every month from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. at the Fresh Meadows library. More information can be obtained by calling (877) 598-4837.

Reach reporter Tien-Shun Lee by e-mail at, or call 229-0300, Ext. 155

Posted 7:24 pm, October 10, 2011
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