I Don’t Have Much to Add

Unpaid child support became a big concern in the 1980s and ’90s as public hostility grew toward the archetypal “deadbeat dad” who lived comfortably while his children suffered. Child support collections were so spotty that in the late 1990s, new enforcement tools such as automatic paycheck deductions were used. As a result, child support collections increased significantly, and some parents rely heavily on aggressive enforcement by the authorities.

But experts said problems could arise when such tactics were used against people who had little money, and the vast majority of unpaid child support is owed by the very poor. A 2007 Urban Institute study of child support debt in nine large states found that 70 percent of the arrears were owed by people who reported less than $10,000 a year in income. They were expected to pay, on average, 83 percent of their income in child support — a percentage that declined precipitously in higher income brackets.

The Obama administration is trying to change some of these policies, proposing to rewrite enforcement rules to require that child support orders be based on actual income and consider the “subsistence needs” of the noncustodial parent, to bar states from allowing child support debt to accrue while parents are incarcerated and to finance more job placement services for them.

“While every parent has a responsibility to support their kids to the best of their ability, the tools developed in the 1990s are designed for people who have money,” said Vicki Turetsky, the commissioner of the federal Office of Child Support Enforcement. “Jail is appropriate for someone who is actively hiding assets, not appropriate for someone who couldn’t pay the order in the first place.”

Frances Robles and Shaila Dewan in the New York Times, emphasis mine.

I’m working a domestic relations pilot project at work right now. It’s a hybrid court, based off a community courts model, a triage courts model, and court-based legal services model. It’s a big project, with impressive goals and I hope we’re able to meet even some of them.

One intent is to connect families with non-judicial services that will help resolve conflicts and facilitate stability in the new family structure. Parents who no longer live together, after all, both remain part of the child’s family–that’s the family structure which needs facilitation when the family ends up in domestic relations courts. Among these moves to stability are providing job support services for precisely the reasons outlined in this article.

We have support from important people for the project and we’re getting excellent input from the community as to how the program should work. But I know there are problems not addressed by our proposal, chief among them the pull quote from Vicki Turetsky: “Jail is appropriate for someone who is actively hiding assets, not appropriate for someone who couldn’t pay the order in the first place.”

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