In November 2014, President Obama’s administration proposed changes to the child support system that has been in effect since 40 years ago. Expectedly, the Republicans, led by then House Committee on Ways and Means Chairman and now Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, introduced legislation to block these changes, at the same time accusing Obama of usurping the powers of Congress.
The proposed changes were in fact to make the operations and enforcement of child support laws more flexible, effective and efficient. Among its intentions were to stop the piling up of child support payments if the non-custodial parent is in prison and to base child support payments on actual income. Child support debt in the US has reached more than $113 billion. In a study conducted by ASPE on nine states, 70% of the debt is owed by parents who had no reported income or an income of less than $10,000 a year.
But the GOP sees these changes as a way for delinquent parents to escape payment of child support, to the detriment of the child. In fact, rules have long been in place to track down non-custodial parents who can afford to but evade child support payment. Also, in the current system, a shift to a lesser-paying job does not equate to a deduction in payment obligations, making arrears increase over time.
But states develop their own laws for determination of child support payments, for as long as they conform to federal guidelines. And quite a few of them have seen that there are provisions in the law that are not relevant to prevailing social and economic conditions and need to be amended.
Here are some states that have introduced reforms to outdated child support laws:
Minnesota has dropped its calculation of “potential income” as a basis for determining child support payment from 150% of the minimum wage working 40 hours a week to 100% of the minimum wage working at 30 hours per week. Since a number of non-custodial parents earn below the minimum wage or can only find part-time work, this change could make child support more affordable for them and less likely for a parent to miss paying.
Another change, effective March 2016 also for the above, gives the court the discretion to order no child support if the income disparity between the custodial parent and the paying one is wide enough to merit such an order, on condition that the paying parent spends three nights a month with the child.
In California, one factor that is taken into consideration when computing child support payment is the amount of time the child spends with a parent. The more time spent with one parent, the less the amount that parent will be paying in child support. Hence, during deliberation, parents who are aware of this issue will try to get more time with their child by increasing visitation thus decreasing support award. Child support lawyers well versed in California’s family law understand that unknowing parents can be misled by cunning spouses and their advisers. Because of this clause, Karly Schlinkert of the Golden Gate University School of Law made a petition in May 2014 to amend the state’s child support formula used to calculate the amount of payment each parent is obliged to give.
In Illinois, a new law that took effect on January 2015 limits the powers of the civil court judge to arrest and detain parents who have not paid child support. The order for body attachment to answer a charge of a civil contempt case cannot be enforced in an order or judgment of a child support case.
One of the new laws in Florida that was signed by the governor in July 2014 requires the court to impute income on an unemployed parent for purposes of child support computation. While this is a deterrent for people who opt to remain unemployed, it is also a step backwards for those who cannot be employed for reasons beyond their control.
As for jailing parents, usually the fathers, who are delinquent in payments, there is a national movement that aims to solve problems related to child support enforcement instead of meting out punishment. If it gains ground, children will benefit not only from getting financial aid that is rightfully theirs but also in building parent-child relationships that will help them develop into responsible adults.