“There are 14 million open child support cases across the country. And seven million of those women are walking away and leaving their money on the table because the system is too hard to navigate,” said Simone Spence, who was one of those parents 25 years ago.
A single mother with a 4-year-old, she was working as a newspaper columnist and having trouble paying her bills because her ex-husband was not paying his child support. She got mad. Then she set out to get paid.
“Every mother deserves to give her child the best possible start in life,” said Spence. “When parents get into this situation, it takes an average of 10 years between paying and receiving. The entire child support system is broken.”
In 1999, Spence published a book entitled “1-800-Deadbeat,” a how-to-book for collecting child support. Afterward, she had moms lined up requesting child support consulting. She found a storefront and opened a child support collection consulting practice.
In 2014, Spence began developing Don’t Get Mad Get Paid (now known as Athena), a software to aid parents in collecting past-due child support. She raised angel funding, collaborated with technical experts, strategic advisors and the site went live in 2019. The company based in the Greater New York area now has seven employees, a host of contractors and advisors and is using social media to launch nationwide.
FORMS IN LEGALESE
“Lawyers have no problem creating beautifully written and designed motions and delivering them to the clients and the court,” said Spence. “But the documents have no teeth. Family lawyers are not debt collectors and unless they decide to hire a private investigator, they are not going to get anywhere.
“It’s next to impossible for a parent to navigate this process alone,” Spence continued. “Clients often try to understand complex forms in order to represent themselves pro se, but the legalese is often too difficult to decipher. Then they have to search on Google University for the information that goes on these forms and make sure they complete them correctly. This is why women have been unable to get access to justice. The system is wholly incompatible with equal rights under the law. In many ways, the inability to access the court system to collect your past due child support is a civil rights issue.”
To get information on deadbeat parents, Athena taps databases available to the government and law enforcement but not to the general public.
“Our product finds a hit on the dad’s address, his employment, his bank accounts, and his personal and real assets,” said Spence. “Like LegalZoom, we generate state-specific and customized legal documents that mom needs. They get dropped into her inbox on her dashboard. Then mom can click, print, and mail the documents to the courts and all other relevant parties so she can collect and seize on the assets we have found.”
BY THE NUMBERS
- $15 million collected
- Average Collections $30,000
- Average Case 6-12 months
- Success Rate 87%
Don’t Get Mad Get Paid was a runner up in Duke Law Tech Lab’s Demo Day 2020 pre-accelerator program and a winner of Pepperdine University’s Most Fundable Companies of 2020 contest. “At its best, legal technology helps to deliver expertise through high-quality services at scale,” said Jeff Ward, director of the Duke Center on Law & Technology. “Simone brings that expertise, and Don’t Get Mad Get Paid is committed to serving the many parents that traditional service delivery has failed for so long.”
OUR NORTH STAR
“We are considering partnering with family law attorneys in the future to help their clients collect back child support,” said Spence.
“For now, we’ve entered the market to address the $118 billion in uncollected child support. We want to help these women get what’s rightfully theirs,” said Spence. “Our north star is that we want to help moms manage their ongoing child support needs. We want to build something that’s easy, streamlined and takes the pain away from both parties.”