Guest Author - Cynthia Parker
Ideally, couples with children deal amicably with each other and arrange for support for their children with the best interest of the child in mind. However, in most cases, life is not ideal and this situation is not the norm. There are a variety of issues that come into play when it comes to the issue of child support and child support enforcement. In addition to the custodial and noncustodial parent, attorneys and the Family Court, state and federal agencies also come into play. All have distinct roles in the process, but is the process defined in such a way that is best for the child?
While the U.S. Government does offer some services in the area of child support enforcement, this is a job that is largely the responsibility of individual states. Unfortunately, laws regarding child support enforcement vary greatly from state to state. This being said, custodial and noncustodial parents must deal with a wide variety of issues throughout the nation. Some states have very good child support enforcement systems in place while others have systems that are worth almost as much as the paper on which the child support agreement is printed. Child support enforcement can become a frustrating and confusing legal battle with the largest causality being the children.
The federal government offers child support enforcement services through parent locator services, by establishing paternity and support obligations, and monitoring and enforcing those agreements. However, their services are supplemental to each state’s own established laws and are mostly geared towards aiding the varying states in communicating with each other. It has established a computerized system, CSEnet 2000, which allows states to communicate with each other in regards to child support cases established and by allowing secure transmission of data in child support cases when issues of the case cross state lines. The U.S. Government also aids in the location of parents through the Social Security Administration and the National Directory of New Hires. These agencies allow states to track employment and unemployment activity in order to locate noncustodial parents who owe child support. Passport denial is a federal repercussion of nonpayment of child support. Additionally, there are program set up to supplement aid given to custodial parents via individual states and programs that match state funds used for aid to custodial parents. While all of these efforts are helpful, none of these deal with the primary issues faced by custodial parents.
For instance, when a child support agreement is established in one state, if the noncustodial parent wishes to dodge that order, it can be as simple as moving to another state. While the federal government has made it simpler for the states to communicate, the fact remains that the originating state must contact the new state of residency and petition for a child support agreement to be established in that state. Information can be safely and quickly transferred from one state to another; however, there are still the issues of time taken to establish the new order which leads to time for the custodial parent without child support and the opportunity for the noncustodial parent to move again, beginning the entire process again. This is a waste of valuable time and money. A federal law establishing that once a child support order is in place it is effective regardless of state of residency would significantly decrease the time the noncustodial parent is free from enforcement of that order. Location would only be necessary in order to continue to enforcement of the original order; the need to establish a new order would be moot.
Garnishing of wages and tax returns as a means of child support enforcement in cases where the noncustodial parent is in arrears is condoned by the federal government and, in fact, the federal government cooperates fully with states who petition to do so. However, the option to garnish wages and/or tax returns is left to the discretion of the state. Some states will only garnish tax returns if the custodial parent petitions the court, pays an application fee, and submits to a variety of standards to have their case approved for this action. Additionally, when wages are garnished to enforce child support payment, in many states, the Family Court is dependent upon the noncustodial parent to inform them of any changes in their job status, including that of unemployment or working for a new company. There are many flaws in the current system. When the federal government is willing to cooperate in seizing the funds from federal tax returns to pay back child support and all the state must do is file the case with the federal government system, why should the custodial parent have to pay a fee for this action to be put into motion? If a noncustodial parent wishes to avoid child support payment, why would he/she inform the Family Court of a change in job status? Many custodial parents face these challenges regularly and many become frustrated by the differences in child support enforcement laws from state to state. While it is sad that we must rely upon the state and federal government to inflict responsibility on noncustodial parents it is a fact that cannot be ignored. This being said, more reliable systems for child support enforcement must be established.
It is time that we ask our federal representatives to develop and present a bill so that child support enforcement is moved away from the individual states and made a federal obligation. This would allow any child support agreement made in any state to be enforced anywhere in the United States without the originating state being forced to petition the new state of residency to establish a new order. Once an order was established it would stand in effect regardless of state of residency. Such orders should be “tied” to the Social Security records of an individual so that when he obtained employment, it would immediately be reported to the Family Court in the state in which he lives and enforcement would begin immediately. This would effectively put an end to the delay and often the inability to implement child support enforcement in many cases. Additionally, charging the federal government with garnishing of wages and the seizures of funds from tax returns would allow for a timelier and more effective method of obtaining funds from noncustodial parents when they are in arrears on child support payments. Having child support agreement linked to Social Security records would allow for the federal government to easily monitor such accounts and would not require state governments to petition for the collection of funds via tax returns. Instead, when a noncustodial parent is in arrears, his tax return funds would automatically be transferred to the custodial parent whom he/she owes support.
To see how your state stands up against other states when it comes to child support enforcement laws, go to the U.S. Government’s Intergovernmental Referral Guide at the link below. After educating yourself on your own state’s law and carefully considering your own child support situation, I strongly urge you to contact your U.S. Senator and asking him or her to develop and sponsor a bill making child support enforcement a federal, rather than a state, responsibility. This change will make enforcement easier and more effective for all who must use the child support system.