For those of us who are single parents by divorce, child support issues can be some of the most complicated and frustrating issues we face. Establishing orders of support are frustrating enough, but having them enforced can be a nightmare. If at all possible, have support orders established in your divorce decree, along with visitation and sharing of medical expenses. Many states do not have precedence set for the establishment of child support continuing through college. If you plan to seek such support, it is better to establish this agreement at the time of divorce than to try to establish this additional support at the time needed. Clarifying as much as possible from the beginning is always the best policy. Do not take the attitude of “We’ll just wait and see what happens” and insist that your attorney does not either.
Despite the best advice, divorce is never an easy challenge and some issues are liable to slip through the cracks. Even when decisions are made and ordered, they are sometimes ignored. If possible, have child support payments structured so that they are paid through the family court. Some states have two options for court-monitored child support. The first is that the payments are delivered to family court and dispensed directly to the custodial parent. The court will monitor whether or not payments are kept up-to-date; however, the custodial parent is still responsible for any legal actions initiated to collect payment of support in arrears. The second is the option of having the case handled through the Child Welfare or Social Services department. Payments are made to the department and dispensed direction to the custodial parent. However, should the payments fall into arrears, the Child Welfare or Social Service department is responsible for legal actions against the noncustodial parent. Each option has its pros and cons. For those that like to have more control over their situation, payment through the court is satisfactory. However, those who cannot afford court costs often prefer to have their case handled through Child Welfare or Social Services. The important thing to remember is that the longer you allow child support payments to remain in arrears, the harder it becomes to collect. Stay on top of the situation and be sure to act in a timely manner.
Often after a noncustodial parent is taken back to court of nonpayment of support, the court will insist that payment be made through the option of wage withholding. This actually becomes easier for all concerned. The anxiety of the noncustodial parent is eased by having the payment payroll deducted. They payment is sent directly to the court, who disperses it to the custodial parent. Payroll departments are well-versed in handling such arrangements with the number of child support orders in effect at this time. The court will monitor the account; however, they contact the noncustodial parent’s employment only after the account is 6 weeks to 3 months in arrears, depending upon the state of residence. The custodial parent has the option to bring the case back to court at any time.
There are many horror stories of child support enforcement, from both sides of the fence. I knew a mother whose husband gave up a $50,000 a year job and moved back in with his mother because he didn’t want to pay child support. I have heard of noncustodial parents who “disappear” to another state to avoid having to pay child support. Child support has been used to force visitation in abusive situations and has been withheld when visitation was denied for court ordered reasons. Parents seem to use child support as an effective tool against one another in order to express the anger and pain of their divorce with little regard to the fact that the child is the one who is suffering the most.
I have always been an advocate of the prosecution of noncustodial parents who are in arrears on child support…at least until this last year. I believe that there must be compassion and justice on both sides of the issue. As we all know, the economy of our nation has greatly suffered in the past few years. The unemployment rate has increased across the nation and just when there was talk to it beginning to drop several nationwide corporations have announced corporate closings and layoffs. Once out of a job, it has become very difficult to find another one. The job market is tight and becoming tighter with the out-sourcing of some types of work. Companies are finding overseas labor to be friendlier to their bottom line. I know a man who is a good father, loves his daughter, and is amiable to his ex-wife. But he has been unemployed for over a year and unable to make his child support payments. Even though his ex-wife has not pushed the issue, he is being taken to court and threatened with jail for nonpayment of support. There is a big difference between this man and “dead-beat” parents who make the choice not to pay child support.
As for jail time as punishment for nonpayment, I have mixed feelings. For those noncustodial parents who choose not to support their children, jail seems - at least on the surface - a wonderful idea. However, when in jail, the noncustodial parent is not working - or searching for a job - and thus is not being paid. He or she is getting farther behind in payments and missing out on income to balance these debts. It seems that there should be a better way to “punish” for nonpayment while enforcing payment. Unfortunately garnishing wages only works while the noncustodial parent is employed. Should they decide to quit their job, it is hard to get blood from the proverbial turnip.
“No easy answers and no easy wins” should be the motto for all those involved in child support disputes. I cannot reiterate enough that the more you can establish up-front, in your divorce decree, the better off you are.
A few web sites of interest to anyone who is experiencing problems with child support enforcement include:
The Federal Office of Child Support Enforcement
This site is a part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Administration of Children and Families. It has wonderful links to the child support and custody laws of each state. It supplies great information from both the federal and state levels on issues of child support.
ACES - Association for Children for the Enforcement of Child Support
A great site for encouragement in the battle for child support enforcement.
National Conference of State Legislatures
Child Support and Family Law
This is a wonderful site for anyone who wants to keep up with what our elected officials who represent our states at the federal level are doing when it comes to improving our nation’s child support and family laws.