Child Support System Broken – No

Parents who owe back child support should definitely NOT be sent to jail, and that extends to women who are unable to pay their child support as well.  In fact, most of the current measures that are taken to collect child support are, at best, ineffective, and at their worst, a clear violation of due process.  They start with things like putting the debt on their credit reports, taking away passports and driver’s licenses, and end with threatening jail-time.  Violators are not given due process of law, and are in fact looked upon as criminals, even if their sole reason for falling behind is the loss of a job, or even the fact that child support was set at a level that they could not afford in the first place.  The non-custodial parent must be left with enough money to support themselves or they cannot support their children, no matter how much they are threatened.

The whole idea of child support has actually become corrupted, to the point where child support is now a “prize” for the “winner” of the child custody case, rather than being truly for the the children.  It creates an adversarial atmosphere between the parents, who actually should be working for the good of the children, but instead, they often wind up fighting amongst themselves as if they are the children themselves.  One person gets custody of the children and child support while the other is left with nothing, and having to pay for the privilege.  It becomes a winner take all mentality, and nobody wins, especially not the children.  After this adversarial process, we seek to punish the children even further by putting one of their parents in jail for what amounts to a debtor’s prison.  Unfortunately, child support enforcement is based on a lynch mob mentality as opposed to logic and Constitutional law.

There are those who believe that they would not be paid without the threat of jail, but who is really paying?  It could be the obligor’s friends or family trying to keep them out of jail because of a job loss, or even a disability that does not allow them to work at a proper job.  There are people who genuinely do not have a way to pay their child support themselves, and to be thrown in jail for this is counterproductive as they have just become even less employable.

The first thing they do if you fall behind on child support is to garnish your wages.  This is a reasonable step and is sometimes necessary to collect the proper amount.  This can, however, become a problem if the obligor loses his or her job.  There are a select few individuals who will voluntarily quit their jobs to get out of paying child support, but it is assumed by the child support enforcement division that all job losses or pay cuts are voluntary, and this is simply not true.  They will also report you to the credit bureaus.  This is still fair.  You will be reported to the credit bureaus for non-payment of any bill, no matter what the reason. 

You may also have any income tax rebates intercepted until you are caught up.  This may or may not be a problem.  If you live in a community property state, this means that if you remarry, you cannot file jointly with your spouse unless you want their income tax rebate taken as well.  The best thing to do in this case is to file separately, and then file an amended return later in the year.  This way, you guarantee that only your portion of the income tax rebate is intercepted, and not your new spouse’s.

Taking passports away is yet another form of punishment for not paying child support.  This is not productive, especially if you’re dealing with a person who must travel for his job, such as a pilot, or even someone in the military who is likely to be deployed.  For others, it simply keeps them from leaving the country on vacation, which may or may not really make a difference.  It does, however, limit the possibilities of employment.

The next step is to take away their driver’s licenses.  This is where logic flies completely out the window.  Without a driver’s license, you cannot get to a job if you have one.  You cannot pick up your children and have the joy of seeing them.  You cannot get a job if you don’t have one, because you have no way of getting to interviews.  You are also likely to lose any professional licenses that you may have.

Now, after we’ve taken away any opportunity they had to bring in an income, let’s throw them in jail for not having enough income to pay their child support.  Does this sound ridiculous to anyone else?

This creates a waste of taxpayer money, as well as creating more reason for an adversarial relationship for two parents who need to be working together for the best interest of their children.  Jail is not the answer.  In fact, child support should not be assessed unless it is actually needed by the custodial parent, and the non-custodial parent has the ability to pay.