For Maryland women having difficulty collecting child-support payments, a Greenbelt lawyer is offering help without charging a fee until his clients receives their first checks.
Lawyer Richard Rosen's method may be the first of its kind, according to him and other lawyers. And he's losing money in the process, he says.
Most lawyers charge a client a retainer fee, usually $500 in child-support cases, and then proceed to recover the payments from the noncustodial parent. Rather than charging a retainer, Rosen bills his client after her first check is in the mail. He said his fee is a minimum of $650.
Since he placed three small advertisements in The Washington Post and appeared on a television news show, Rosen said he has received 150 phone calls from women inquiring about his service, although it is also available to men.
"I just got sick of all the noncustodial parents who had to pay $40 a month and are making $20,000 a year," Rosen said. "I never realized how bad it was."
Rosen has been practicing law for 14 years, including jobs at legal aid offices in New York and Annapolis. He said he has handled more than 300 divorce and child-support cases.
Rosen's clients must have certain qualifications, he said: They must live in Maryland and know where the noncustodial parent is working.
Rosen's first step when he takes a case is to interview the parent with custody and then get in touch with the former spouse's employer. Sometimes the delinquent father will then comply, but other times he refuses and Rosen must bring the matter before a judge. The father may wind up in jail or have his belongings seized until payment is made. Once the client starts receiving child-support money, Rosen said he charges her 30 to 60 percent of her payments, depending on her income, until the bill is paid.
"They're paying more but it's the only way they can do it," Rosen said. "I don't see why these women have to pay at all."
Rosen said one of the reasons he chose to work with child-support cases is because he considers the issue to be "black and white."
"Kids can't help themselves," he said. "It's the only thing the NOW National Organization for Women and Jerry Falwell agree on."
Rosen calls his service a Band-Aid approach and says the problem of collecting child support payments lies with people's attitudes.
He suggests that employers turn away applicants with a history of withholding child-support payments and urges that the payment history of those persons be used in their credit ratings.
"I don't understand how, if you don't pay $27 to Montgomery Ward, your credit is bad, but if you don't pay your child support, your credit is great," he said.
Rosen said he plans to go to the American Bar Association with data on his cases after a year in the hope that other lawyers will follow suit.