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Child Support Nonpayment Amnesty: A Good Idea?
In the state of South Carolina, when a noncustodial parent (NCP) does not pay child support as ordered by the family court, the following are possible consequences:
• File contempt of court proceedings, which may result in a jail sentence if the NCP is found in contempt of court
• Withhold the child support from the NCP's wages or unemployment benefits.
• Intercept federal and/or state income tax refunds.
• Garnish worker's compensation benefits.
• Refer the NCP to credit reporting agencies.
• Revoke the occupational, professional, or driver's license of the NCP.
• In cases where the NCP resides out-of-state, the Child Support Enforcement Division (CSED) may pursue federal prosecution of the NCP.
However, these courses of action are only followed on an automatic basis IF the child support case is monitored by the Child Support Enforcement Division. (The CSED is part of the Department of Social Services.) All cases of child support are not under the watchful eye of the CSED. The CSED becomes involved only if either of the parents request that they take on the case. In fact, child support is only monitored by the family court if the payments have been ordered to be paid through the Clerk of Court. If the payments are to be paid directly to the custodial parent, the custodial parent is responsible for keeping track of payments and of filing legal action should the NCP cease to make payments. In short, the repercussions above for nonpayment of support do not apply to all cases.
In Lexington County, February 28, 2007 was established as “child support amnesty day.” This was not an official term, but one that many custodial parents have come to use for this date. Any NCP who owed back child support was allowed to turn themselves in at that time, receive a new order for support, and avoid further repercussions.
The father of my children owes in excess of $13,000 in child support arrearages. He was given four months in jail, suspended provided that he make a regular payment, pay $20 on arrearages and join Fatherhood Coalition. He was ordered to make his regular weekly payment plus $21 toward arrearages each week going forward. At $21 a week it will take him a little over 12 years to pay off his child support arrearages. If he misses a payment, he is supposed to be arrested and placed in jail for three months.
The problem with that order is two-fold. First is the length of time given to make payment of the arrearages. Twelve years is a long time. Second, the father of my children has quit jobs in order to have no income, been paid “under the table” to avoid wage withholding, lived out of hotels in order to appear homeless, hidden in his home in order to avoid being served, and used connections with friends with influences to avoid paying child support. Family Court and the Sheriff’s office have spent the past three years attempting to serve him in vain. If he decides not to make a payment, then I am sure that he will successfully dodge the courts attempts to arrest him…again. I am not going to hold my breath that this newest child support order is the answer to nonpayment.
I have talked with many other custodial parents – mothers and fathers – who deal with the same situation, sometimes worse. Laws vary from state to state and state agencies have a wide range of abilities available to them for prosecuting noncustodial parents for nonpayment of child support. Parents under court order to pay child support have a wide range of options available to them in order to avoid payment and prosecution. Custodial parents need to lobby their state and federal government representatives to make changes in the system so that custodial parents and their children do not have to fight for support. See next week’s article, State and Federal Child Support Laws, for ideas how we can all work together to make a much needed change.
Postscript: After paying the initial payment to keep him out of jail, the father of my children has now missed two payments. If he is not up-to-date by the end of March, he will be jailed for violation of support order for a period of three months.
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