While there is a federal agency that governs the overall system (Administration for Children and Families in the Department of Health and Human Services), child support laws in the United States vary from state to state as each state develops its own guidelines for determining support. Federal law (Regulation IV-D) requires uniform application of child support guidelines throughout a state, but it allows each state to determine their own method for calculating support and does not insist upon uniform application between states.
The Uniform Interstate Family Support Act (UIFSA) was drafted in 1992 and revised in 1996 and 2001. Its purpose is to determine the jurisdiction and power of the courts and establish which state’s laws will apply when more than one state is involved in establishing, enforcing or modifying a child support order. It requires that every state defer to child support orders entered by the courts of the child’s home state. It also allows a caretaker parent to have an order mailed to the employer of an obligated parent, which will require that employer to withhold pay for the benefit of the child. Finally it allows the caretaker parent to have an order mailed to an out-of-state court to get the other state to enforce the order.
While an improvement over the federal governments influence on child support enforcement in the past, the possible actions established by this Act are not enough. Despite the fact that this Act establishes that one state’s laws cannot over-rule the laws of the state where the child support order was established, the fact remains that if a noncustodial parent (NCP) moves to another state, in order to have the established order enforced, the custodial parent must petition the state in which the NCP now lives and have the order re-established. Once an order for support is put into effect, it should be in effect regardless of where the NCP, custodial parent (CP), or child moves. If child support and child support enforcement were under federal rather than state jurisdiction, then it would not matter where the NCP moved, the order would automatically follow. Currently, if a NCP truly wishes to avoid payment of child support, he or she can be moved again in the time it takes to have the order re-established in the state of the original move. The custodial parent can be led in a “hop around America”, attempting to catch up with the NCP, to a rather expensive tune of lawyer’s fees. The custodial parent should not be required to petition another state’s Family Court system or the NCP’s employer to enforce an order already in place. (Besides, if the NCP doesn’t want to be found, the custodial parent is not going to know who to petition!) However, the IRS (a federal government agency!) will have a record of their employment, since they are required to pay federal taxes regardless of state of residency, if they are working legally. With federal government involvement, wage withholding should be established based on this information.
Normally I am a strong advocate of allowing states to govern themselves with as little interference from the federal government as possible. However, this is one instance where I feel that the federal government desperately needs to be involved in aiding custodial parents. What can we do? We must make our voices heard. Custodial parents must take a stand and ask both our state and federal legislators to review the current child support enforcement laws, listen to our concerns, and begin the process to make child support enforcement easier and the nonpayment of support more difficult.
The PTA (yes, the Parent-Teacher Association) has some excellent guidelines on their website for why and how parents can start a grassroots advocacy of any particular cause. While their guidelines are intended to encourage parents to support the chosen causes of the PTA, they are excellent for any group that has a cause to support. Additionally, the Grassroots Advocacy Training Exchange (GATE) also posts on their website various questions to consider and actions to take in order to promote change via your state and federal representatives. This is the reason our government has been termed to be “by the people, for the people.” If we want change, we have to be willing to take the appropriate actions to make our voices heard. If we are not willing to do this, then we do not have the right to complain when our government does not work for our best interests.
Are you a custodial parent? Do you have a child support case in arrearages? Have you been “failed” by the current child support enforcement system? What are YOU willing to do? I would NEVER advocate any illegal demonstration or any illegal actions against any individual, state or federal government agency. But I do believe that we have the right and the responsibility to make it known to our lawmakers, state and federal, that the current system does not work to the best of its ability and that changes are needed in order to insure that custodial parents are able to better support their children.
Perhaps we need to remind our legislators that the increase of child support enforcement would also decrease dependency upon state and federal welfare programs which pick up the slack when the NCP’s fail to handle their responsibilities. An investment in the programs that would insure the enforcement of child support would greatly reduce the amount of funds necessary to support such welfare programs.
I would encourage all custodial parents who are not satisfied with the current enforcement of their child support orders to band together with other single parents and contact their state and federal legislators via email, letters, and phone calls, asking them to seriously consider child support enforcement reform. It is time for change for the better and the answer lies with our collective voices.