In 2009, child support payments and collections fell for the first time in 30-years within the worst economy in decades. While the statistics for 2010 have yet to be released, it’s very likely that child support payments fell again last year.
Contributing to the decline are the obvious reasons – alarmingly high unemployment rates in conjunction with a flood of child support petitions requesting appropriate and fair downward modifications of child support orders. It still remains unnecessarily costly, difficult, and time consuming for child support payors to obtain those downward child support modifications. States’ financial coffers suffer when the matching federal dollars for child support collections are impacted by child support reductions. So, it’s in the states’ best interests to keep the process as difficult and harsh as possible.
We take a look at some of the more disconcerting information from the DailyFinance article linked at the end of this post (an excellent, informative read).
State and federal governments collected $26.4 billion in child-support payments for the fiscal year that ended Sept. 30, 2009, down 0.7% from a year earlier, according to the Department of Health and Human Service’s Office of Child Support Enforcement. The decrease was the first since such records began being kept in 1976. Payments average about $250 a month nationwide.
No doubt at all that this is reflective of the backsliding economic rut we’re all operating within. Unemployment is way up. Underemployment is way up. People who have simply given up on their futile job searches is way up. Personal bankruptcies continue to rise as do home foreclosures.
As a result, more noncustodial parents are faced with the dilemma of either going through the months-long process of getting a court order to temporarily reduce their payments until they find a new job, or having as much as 25% of their unemployment checks garnished by state regulators. Either way, custodial parents receive smaller checks each month.
The above quote brings us to our first issue. While the article does an excellent job of detailing how all of our lives are impacted by the current financial crisis, the main topic – child support – always seems to shift towards what “custodial parents” have to do without. The reality is that non-custodial parents are also receiving smaller checks – if they’re receiving any check at all. The first in-depth mainstream media article that does an analysis of the struggle for non-custodial, child support paying parents under the thuggish, watchful eyes of child support enforcement agencies will be the first I’ve seen.
Wage-withholding efforts by states such as California and Illinois have been stymied as more noncustodial parents find themselves out of work, or employed in the informal sector, where income sources are harder for governments to track.
As such, their budgets are adversely impacted. The bloated government employment rolls, especially when in child support collections and enforcement programs, are losing the precious inflow of federal money. This reality is noticeably absent from an otherwise excellent article.
“Obviously, the economic situation has been difficult for families both paying and receiving child support,” says Bill Otterbeck, deputy director for California Child Support Services Department. “For many of our families, [child support payments are] the difference between being in poverty and rising out of it.”
For many non-custodial parents, child support payments are the difference between staying in poverty and ultimately having absolutely nothing.
In the Midwest, though, high unemployment levels continue to put the squeeze on child-support payments. In Illinois, 88% of child-support cases were in arrears at some point during the most recently completed fiscal year, which was actually down from 91% in fiscal 2008 but was still up from 84% in fiscal 2007, according to Mike Claffey, spokesman with the Illinois Office of Communication and Information. Claffey pegs the 2008 increase in late payments to the unemployment jump.
Those arrearages complicate matters even further. Why? Well, for starters, many states charge obscene levels of interest and late fees on top of the basic child support orders. Given the disgraceful amount of time it takes to attempt to gain a reasonable downward child support modification, the situation causes an accelerated downward financial spiral for child support paying non-custodial parents. States’ child support enforcement agencies then stomp on the throats of these destitute parents, and they stomp hard via draconian escalating penalties. Those penalties include; loss of personal and professional licenses, destroyed credit, impounded or confiscated automobiles – even arrest and incarceration. Kicking dirt in the faces of these unfortunate folks is the mainstream media, who are all-too-willing to publish a new article on “deadbeat dad round-ups”, paying no mind to the actual financial and living conditions of the overwhelming majority of people whom they so easily denigrate in the press.
Both Otterbeck and Fraidin say some noncustodial parents can get a respite of sorts. States such as Oregon and Texas have modified their laws to make it easier to reduce child-support payments for as long as six months in the event of a job loss. Still, the process of getting payments reduced can take months, and the parent still has to pay a minimum of about $100 a month, jobless or not.
How charitable of these states. If you’re fortunate enough to get your case heard within six months, you might get a six month reduction only. Given that most unemployed people are so for a minimum of six months nowadays, this doesn’t seem like much help. In the meantime, the child support enforcement machine doesn’t stop grinding these people into oblivion. The reality is that there is almost no positive outcome given current laws and legislation. Interest, late fees, penalties, and the efforts undertaken by child support enforcement agencies to make it nearly impossible for a person behind in child support payments to actually find work. They all conspire in unimaginable absurdity to hurt everyone – including the people they’re allegedly trying to help: child support recipients.
And the beat goes on. As a society, we should be outraged by this entire system and every single one of us should be rallying, contact our legislators, and making public the disgusting situations that are allowed to continue by our local, state, and federal governments unabated. These people are proud of what they do without any regard to the destruction that they bring to families – intact ones and broken ones alike. It’s shameful.
See full article from DailyFinance: Child Support Payments Likely Fell in 2010