All dependent children have the right to be emotionally, physically, and financially supported by their parents. The core problem with child-support laws and policies is that there is too much emphasis on enforcement and not enough focus on getting fathers involved in their children’s lives.
While the issues of child support and parenting may be decided in the same divorce or paternity
settlement, in most jurisdictions the two rights and obligations are completely separate and individually
enforceable. Custodial parents may not withhold contact to "punish" a noncustodial parent for failing to pay some or all child support required. Conversely, a noncustodial parent is required to pay child support even if they are being denied parenting time/visitation.
The current system fixates on enforcement while ignoring parental involvement, and yet children need both financial and emotional support from their parents. Reform is needed that will make the system more rational and workable;
• Child support should be capped at the minimum amount needed to raise a child.
• The state should not serve the best interests of the children of wealthy parents more so
than the children of parents of modest means (e.g. every child merits the same amount of
• The state should get out of the business of raising Federal matching funds at the expense of the mental health of our
• The courts should stop dangling children in front of desperate parents in order to incentivize them to pay legal fees.
• The state should stop making value judgments between two competent parents in order to label one “custodial” and the
other “non-custodial”. This is an outdated social model that wreaks of inequality. The state should not perpetuate this
model in order to keep its flow of Federal matching funds.
Effective legislative reform would involve taking the profit out of being a custodial parent. Child support should be for children, not for custodial parents, and should not be conflated with alimony. Our current child support formulas bring children into the middle of a financial tug of war. Children should not be financial pawns and the adversarial courts need to stop pitting one parent against the other that further escalates conflict and tempts them to fight. Children should not be the objects by which states attain Federal matching funds in order to make up for deficiencies in their treasuries (Title IV-D funding).
The psychological harm done to children placed in the middle of a custody battle should not be rationalized as “acceptable collateral damage” in order for attorneys and custody evaluators to get rich so that they can transfer some of that wealth to the billion dollar divorce industry that our children are paying for.
We often hear about the negative effects of child-support agency blunders on women and children, but we seldom hear of negative consequences of agency blunders from the perspective of the 14 million noncustodial parents who are mostly fathers.
What happens to child-support payers when the child-support office bungles, or fails to distribute collected child-support money?
Innocent parents can be subjected to any number of penalties including the loss of driver's and business licenses, and jail time, when in reality they paid the support money. However, most men who fall behind on child support have led law-abiding lives and legitimately fear for their safety and mental stability if they are incarcerated.
States are notorious for failing to keep interstate child-support records straight. Child-support money can be paid in one state and reported as owed in another. When custodial parents are led to believe the money wasn't paid, this can make the relationship between parents deteriorate, thereby negatively affecting the children.
In many cases where a custodial parent is on welfare, the father's child-support payments go directly
to the state for welfare reimbursement; not to the children. Many custodial parents may be unaware
that the noncustodial parent is paying, because the money is going to the state. In the Census report, fathers who paid to the state for welfare reimbursement were counted in the "defaulted payment" category. This error could have been prevented had noncustodial parents been interviewed, but they were not asked.
One false premise is that alleged “deadbeat parents” have the money to pay child support, they just willfully choose not to pay. Through research, we now know that the major reason some men don't pay is that they can't afford to. This is usually due to unemployment, illness, or disability.
As shared parenting advocates Dianna Thompson and Murray Davis of the National Family Justice Association note, "Society holds noncustodial parents, mostly fathers, to an unattainable standard to never become physically or mentally ill, never get disabled, and to never lose a job or get laid off in a poor economy."
Arizona State University researcher Sanford Braver, who over an eight-yearperiod conducted the largest federally funded study of divorced dads everdone, found that unemployment was the largest factor behind nonpayment ofchild support and noted that his findings were "consistent with virtually all past studies on the topic."
According to a U.S. Government Accounting Office survey of custodial mothers who were not receiving the support they were owed, two-thirds ofthe mothers admitted that their children's fathers did not paytheir child support because they were financially unable to do so.
Another problem is that, according to Elaine Sorensen of the Urban Institute, less than 5 percent of fathers who lose their jobs or becomedisabled are able to get downward modifications in their child support. Insuch cases, arrearages mount quickly, as does interest (10 percent or morein many states) and penalties. However, judges cannot remedy theseinjustices because the federal Bradley amendment bars them fromretroactively forgiving child support arrearages.
The federal government is beginning to recognize the phenomenon of the "dead-broke dad”, yet we are still laboring under the widely quoted, though erroneous, study of sociologist Lenore Weitzman, who claimed that mothers experience a 73 percent drop in standard of living in the first year after divorce while men experience a 42 percent increase.
According to the research of psychologist Sanford Braver, if one considers the costs of fathers' visitations and the tax breaks for mothers, the truth is that men and women on average fare "almost exactly equally" after divorce.
Contrary to popular mythology, most dads do somehow keep current in their child support, oftentimes having to seek help from family members and friends.
Numerous newspaper reports reveal that child-support agencies are rife with billing errors. A past survey conducted by the American Coalition for Fathers and Children stated that 55 percent of child-support payers surveyed said that they have experienced billing errors by a child-support agency. Among those who tried to get the agency to fix the error, 61 percent were unsuccessful. In 43 percent of cases, the payer had been subjected to punitive measures as a result of a billing error, such as having cars booted or assets seized."
Why are the collection agencies overzealous? It's simple. States make federal money off the collection of child support, although the child-support enforcement agency, overall, loses money for the taxpayers.
The federal government required all states to have statewide child support enforcement computer systems; South Carolina’s deadline was 1997, and it’s the only state still without a working system.
According to an article on the Channel 7 news website in South Carolina, “…The state has been fined $137 million so far for failing to have a working system. The fine for 2016 was $13 million, and the state will continue to pay fines to the federal government until the system is working. Those past vendors have paid about half the fines.
Sen. Young stated, “It’s totally unacceptable and it’s unjustifiable to the taxpayers of this state, and as an elected official and state senator in this state, it’s going to be my goal and the chairman of this committee to keep the pressure on the agency and move the ball forward and find ways we can get this implemented and the ways to save the taxpayers on the penalties that the state continues to have to pay to the federal government.”…”
A solution to all this? Try building a realistic system with checks and balances, a system that is held accountable.
Due to the disorganization that exists within the child support system, non-custodial parents are going without seeing their children, despite court ordered visitation. In order to avoid the hardship placed on both parents and the child, shared parenting should be the norm when a family experiences divorce or separation.
There is no shortage of evidence showing that shared parenting helps offset the negative effects of divorce. While it is important for children to receive adequate financial support, it is arguably even more essential to have quality time with both parents.
For more information on shared parenting, please visit our proposed legislative changes page.