One may not have any sympathy for actor Charlie Sheen, especially after he claimed he was in a “dire financial crisis” after reportedly being worth less than $10 million. As The Daily Wire previously reported, Sheen now says he can’t afford his monthly child support payments to his four children from previous marriages to Denise Richards and Brooke Mueller.
Sheen, according to People Magazine, claims in court documents that he can’t make his monthly payments because he’s “been unable to find steady work and [has] been blacklisted from many aspects of the entertainment industry.”
One’s first reaction may be an eye roll, as we all witnessed Sheen’s very public meltdown in 2011 (remember “tiger blood” and “winning,” which the actor now blames on testosterone cream). Let’s set aside the issues with an older man “trying to get the old libido up,” as Sheen told ABC News’ “Good Morning America” in 2017, and focus solely on the child support problems he is now facing.
Sheen was once the highest paid television actor in the country, earning $1.8 million per episode in his last season of “Two and a Half Men” and $2 million per episode of “Anger Management” after it’s 100th episode. That amount of money would require him to pay a huge amount per month in child support, as child support is based on a percentage of one’s income.
In many cases, however, if the noncustodial parent paying child support loses income, their child support payments may not be lowered due to their “earning capacity.” Since Sheen once made millions, the theory goes, he should be able to continue making those millions if he tried harder.
Sheen’s predicament is one of his own making, but there are many other men out there facing this problem through no fault of their own. One father I spoke to, Ken Jacobs of Fort Worth, TX, said his career has stalled because, while he’s had job opportunities that would provide better benefits but lower pay, he’s had to refuse them because he wouldn’t be able to afford his child support payments.
Jacobs is a divorced father of two who works in the financial services industry. He says that during his costly divorce he was homeless for six months, using the shower at his local gym and sleeping in his car. He had his young children two weekends a month, and says he would take them camping so they wouldn’t know his living situation.
“If I were to take a job with lower pay now, even [with] better long-term prospects, I’d be homeless again,” Jacobs told me in an email. “Between child support and student loans, I barely get by. Because they view income as a high water mark and do not lower child support if you voluntarily take a lower paying job, my career has been stagnant over the last few years since I’ve hit this plateau.”
Jacobs is also the Chief Operating Officer of Americans for Equal Shared Parenting (AFESP), a nonprofit organization dedicated to changing family court laws in order to promote children’s rights to equal access of both their parents.
Dianna Thompson, executive director of the similar group Family Reunion, told me the problem for noncustodial parents is much wider than losing income due to poor choices or divorce.
“Society holds noncustodial parents, mostly fathers, to an unattainable standard to never become physically or mentally ill, never get disabled, and to never lose a job or get laid off in a poor economy,” she said.
She directed me to the stories of other celebrities who have faced child support issues. Brendan Fraser, known for the original “The Mummy” series and “Journey to the Center of the Earth,” had to petition the court to lower his $900,000 a year child support payments to his ex-wife, Afton Smith, after his career took a nosedive.
Of course, with any issue, there is another side. While some men’s income is lowered for legitimate reasons, there are those who fraudulently claim to be earning less in order to make lower payments out of spite or some other nefarious reason.
Gingerbread, a single parent charity based in the U.K., released a report in 2017 about “maintenance payment avoidance tactics” used by wealthy noncustodial payments (again, mostly men). In the U.K., “maintenance” is the term used for support or alimony.
In a post for Medium, a pseudonymous author wrote about a woman called “Alison.” This woman’s ex-husband allegedly told her he had no more money and couldn’t afford to pay his children’s school fees. This was apparently a lie, as court documents later showed him purchasing diamond jewelry the week he claimed to be broke.
Charlie Sheen may be an unsympathetic person, but the issues his situation has highlighted are real and deserve more attention.