Rob Clarkson said he never wants to be a “weekend dad.”

He says he takes his three children — Sarena, 11, Alexis, 9, and Daulton, 8 — to baseball practice and school-supply shopping, attends school conferences and, in the case of Sarena, who has athetoid cerebral palsy, sits by her hospital bed.

His big problem is child support. It’s not that he minds paying it, he said. “It’s my responsibility and I’m glad to do it,” he said. It’s the amount.

Clarkson, 33, is one of about 10,000 people in Madison County, mostly fathers, who pay child support to ex-wives or lovers, according to Madison County Prosecutor Rodney Cummings.

But Clarkson says the child support structure is unfair to divorced fathers like him, whose emotional support outweighs the amount of financial support he can afford to give.

The amount of child support each parent pays in Indiana is based on the combined gross weekly income of the two parents, according to the state child support guidelines.

At the bottom of the scale, If a couple’s combined gross weekly income is $100, the basic child support costs are $25 for one child, or $50 for two or more children.

The amount rises based on how much money couples make and how many children they have. For a couple who makes $4,000 a week combined and has three children, the basic child support costs are $619. All the costs are laid out in a guideline schedule, available at

Then the basic cost is divided based on the percentage of the weekly income each parent makes.

If a father makes 60 percent of the income, he’ll also pay 60 percent of the basic child support cost. If he makes 40 percent, he’ll pay 40 percent.

Only non-custodial parents pay child support; the parent a child lives with pays for almost everything else a child needs.

“It costs more to raise a child than the amount they’re getting paid,” Cummings said.

The total number of child support cases in Madison County is about 10,000, Cummings said. Though the county doesn’t keep hard numbers on how many women versus men have custody of their children, Cummings said anecdotally that it’s usually the mother.

“In our society, mothers tend to be the nurturers,” he said.

When Clarkson and his wife divorced in January 2001, his child support payments were set at $114 a week.

“It was based on what I was making at the time,” he said.

Back then, he was a correctional officer at the Pendleton Correctional Facility making about $13 a hour, and making the payments wasn’t a problem.

Then he got fired in June 2005 for bringing a pack of cigarettes to work.

“It was my own fault,” he admitted.

For about six months, he was out of work. Without any income to speak of, he got about $1,000 behind on his payments.

In January 2006, Clarkson found a new job, working as a security guard for Bloomington-based American Services Inc.

But he now makes $8.50 an hour, and until about two weeks ago, it was only part time.

“It doesn’t cover all the bills,” he said.

So he went back to court to try to get his payments reduced.

In Madison County parents who think their payments are too high can file a petition to have them reduced, Cummings said. To file a petition, they have to have an “involuntary reduction in pay,” meaning a person can’t get their child support reduced if they quit a job. A judge then decides whether to grant that petition.

Clarkson’s judge, whose name he wasn’t sure of, decided not to grant his application.

“They treated me like a common criminal,” he said.

Clarkson and his wife, Leslie, who also has three children from a previous marriage, told the judge that they had bought school supplies for the kids.

“They said it wasn’t our responsibility, that they were gifts and didn’t count,” Leslie, a 33-year-old laid-off Guide Corp. worker and full-time nursing student at Ivy Tech, said.

Madison County Superior Court Judge Thomas Newman Jr. didn’t rule in Clarkson’s case, but was surprised by the outcome.

“If his income is less, we could see if his support should be changed,” he said.

Clarkson is appealing the ruling.

About 61 percent of child support cases in Madison County were paying off back child support in fiscal 2004, the latest year statistics were available, according to the Department of Child Services.

Nationwide, 60 percent of cases are paying off back payments, compared to 56 percent of cases in Indiana.

In Madison County, if custodial parents aren’t getting their child support, they have two options through the prosecutor’s office to pursue back payments.

Welfare recipients can go to the Title IV D office, which is a federally funded program to help states recover back child support.

For a fee of $25, non-welfare recipients can also enlist the help of prosecutor’s office to collect back child support.

And in Madison County, Cummings said, “we’re pretty hard-nosed,” about collecting.

In Madison County, 54 percent of current child support was collected in fiscal 2004, according to the DCS.

That’s above the Indiana average of 51 percent, but below the national average of 59 percent, according to the DCS.

On a recent weekday, Clarkson sat on his back porch, next to 11-year-old Sarena, who was recuperating from an operation that could someday help her walk.

Clarkson and his family now have to make some tough choices — like whether to pay the electric bill or buy groceries.

“I’m not mad about paying child support,” he said. “I’m upset they won’t give me a break.”

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