February 8, 2002
For Maja Rater, the fight for justice in child support never ends aja Rater is an indefatigable child-support advocate. She hammers away at county officials, state lawmakers and bureaucrats, trying to ensure that custodial parents and their children are given their due. Rater's crusade is fueled by frustratioa Her former husband Otho, with whom she has seven children, owes more than $89,000 in unpaid, court-ordered child support. There are four volumes of documents at the Polk County Courthouse covering her attempts to get the system to work for her children. She knows what a difference that money would make in their lives. And it makes her furious that the government officials who have the power to collect the money or enforce criminal non-support laws wont do so with the same vengeance she feels. "Am I angry?" asked Rater, who lives in Casey. "Of course I am. My kids are being cheated out of their childhood, and life is hell because the state wont do its job while it shouts to the high heavens how much it values children." Since I began writing an opinion column for the Register last April, Rater has been a frequent correspondent. She has a certain way of spinning things toward her cause. Shirley Ragsdale In response to the Register's coverage of Kari Engholm, a Perry hospital executive who last summer forgot her infant daugter, Clare, in the back seat of a hot minivan and discovered the girl dead nine hours later, Rater wrote: "Most of us cannot understand how a mother can forget a child for the whole day. Nevertheless, we know it didn't happen on purpose. However, across the state we have parents who willfully put their children at risk by not paying the court-ordered child support. Why are the county prosecutors willing to go after parents who accidentally neglect their children but not parents who willfully neglect their children?" When I wrote a column that was headlined "Head Back to the Store and Give Democracy a Boost," Rater wrote: "I would be glad to spend money if I had any. Perhaps you could encourage the Iowa bureaucracy to do its job of defending the rule of law against the lawless within our own borders and begin to collect the back child support owed to more than 300,000 children and their families in Iowa. All the other parents who call me would do the same." Her response to a column I wrote about breast cancer was: "I am 60 years old and have never had a mammogram. I don't have the luxury of worrying about breast cancer. There is too much to worry about, like hanging onto my house and putting food on the table. My former husband stopped paying even a token child-support payment. I guess he feels secure that the state of Iowa wont do a thing regardless of all the laws. And he is right." To one of my columns that was headlined "Iowa Domestic-Violence Law Stalled Last Year, so Pass it Now," she wrote: "You mean to say that laws actually mean something in Iowa? They are enforced and protect people? So where do I take my stack of orders to have them enforced? Funny how the laws that are not passed FROM THE REGISTER S LIBRARY nQW jj believed tO be A 1996 family photo Of four of the seven living out of state. Rater children with their mother, Maja, at She attends meetings, far rieht. The children are from left: Bet- buttonholes elected offi- tina, David, Diedre and Robert. will always do the job, be enforced and protect people, but the ones that are on the books wont. It's called politics, I believe." In a recent column, "Make it Law: No Guns for Domestic Abusers," I said the paper that a protective order is written on is easily pierced by a bullet. To that Rater said: "Surprise, surprise! Court orders are not worth the paper they are written oa Well, that is why in Iowa there is a child-support debt of more than $1 billion, even though non-support of children is a Class D felony. " If Rater is an irritant, it's because she wants "support or justice. Nothing else will do." Her former husband was on trial three times before he was found guilty of criminal non-support, she said. He rials and works for changes in the state child-support law. People say they'll get back to her, but dont. The governor does not answer her letters. It doesnt faze her. "I will keep fighting until I win this for my kids, for all kids abandoned in this culture, for parents who value kids above material things. "I want my girls to stand up for themselves. They do that by fighting the wrong they are confronted with. One can develop skills and character by standing against what is wrong in society rather than turning the other cheek and ignoring the injustice. "I want my boys to know that there are consequences to what their dad is doing to them. I want them to know that we are a country of laws. I dont think character is something they learn in school. Character is developed by standing up to evil." Whatever people in the state child-support enforcement office may think of in-your-face people like Maja Rater, they should step back to consider that if the system doesn't work for women like her, how well is it working for those who dont have her determination? And how many comfortable dead-beats are represented in that heart-stopping total of $1 billion in uncollected child support? SHIRLEY RAGSDALE is a Register columnist. She can tie reached it ngsdalesnews.dmreg.com Of (515) 284-8208.