Assumptions in Child Support Laws and Obligations

The Office of Child Support Enforcement (OSCE), a unit within the Administration for Children and Families at the United States Department of Health and Human Services collects data and reports that $3.95 of Child Support was collected for every $1 of program expense in fiscal year 2000.  However, over $3 billion was spent on enforcement that year, and recouped less than $1 billion.  Also, “Pursuant to 42 U.S.C. ‘666 (a)(8) and (b)(3), all new child support orders must contain a provision requiring automatic garnishment and payment through the child support enforcement bureaucracy even in non-welfare cases unless a waiver is obtained on an individual case basis.” So, the government is simply a pass-through bureaucracy that distorts its statistics to gain support for a program that is losing money annually (imagine what the 2017 numbers will look like, perhaps I will provide them in the research paper).  The current bureaucracy in place acts as a pass through program, it is not only failing to account for the loss of money (literally losing actual child support payments and overpaying without recoupment) but also not accounting for the financial burden of passport denial, suspended driver’s licenses, etc.  “Congress has created a programme manager’s Nirvana: a programme whose self-proclaimed results get better year by year regardless of who steers the ship or what direction they turn.  Year after year, Congress votes more taxpayer money for their ‘cost-effective’ programme despite having no idea of the true human costs of lost or delayed payments, of erroneously imposed garnishments, of erroneously revoked driver’s licenses and professional licenses and of the misery caused by the criminalization of a civil debt.”

Originally this program was designed to recoup welfare costs paid to custodial parents who were receiving no support from ‘deadbeat dads’.  However, of the $4,525,771,150 only 1,345,080,032 were collected in cases involving welfare recipients. “The original premise that welfare expenditures could be recouped from non-custodial parents was simply wrong.  The simple truth is that low-income women tend to have children with low-income men and the invention of new coercions to squeeze harder will not bring more blood from these very dry stones.  It is time for a new approach.”

The ‘deadbeat dad’ image of a “wealthy surgeon who abandoned his children in poverty to squire his new trophy wife around in a shiny red Porsche.” is far from true.  In data pulled from three different states (Georgia, Wyoming and Kentucky), the father’s with the highest arrearages ($10,000 plus) were bricklayers, truck drivers, laborers, unemployed, etc.  Most child support obligors are low-income, not big money makers and further more we are over burdening them with high child support obligations. “We have to demonize them lest we start to think that some of them are just working stiffs who cannot carry the burdens the courts have imposed upon them.” Therefore, are we ever going to see the arrears paid?  Most likely not, but yet we continue to dump money into a broken system with distorted numbers and continue to blacken the image of the single father while making the case that these poor single mothers are in dire need due to the neglect of these ‘deadbeat dads’.

With all this information and all the money spent on enforcement the OCSE collects little data and spends $0 on researching why non-custodial parents are not making clear payments.  Instead, they spend over $4.5 billion annually on enforcement, money that will never be reimbursed.  “The theory is that child support is supposed to be set to meet the child’s needs within the limits of the obligor’s ability to pay. When the difference between theory and reality is so great that the required revenue can only be generated through medieval kidnapping for ransom in the style of Judge Rivers, the system must ultimately collapse of its own weight.  This is exactly what is happening…Consider the application of the typical guideline.  Assume a family with two children in which the non-custodial parent has a modest gross income of $20,000 per year:

  • If the custodial parent is voluntarily unemployed, the non-custodial parent’s support order under the guideline will be set at 25% of gross income.
  • If the custodial parent takes employment and achieves the same $20,000 per year gross income, the non-custodial parent’s child support obligation is not reduced one penny.
  • If the custodial parent remarries and now has a high household income, say $100,000, the non-custodial parent’s child support obligation is still not reduced by one penny.
  • If, alternately, the non-custodial parent remarries, and now has a second family to support, the non-custodial parent’s child support obligation is still not reduced by one penny, unless the second family has fallen below the poverty level regardless of the standard of living achieved by the first family.

All of these results are presumed to be equally fair and valid under the guideline. Only the non-custodial parent has burdens. Only the custodial parent has choices.” This is still not including the taxes paid by the non-custodial parent and not by the income receiver, the Child Tax Exemptions and Child Credits given to the custodial parent. “Even old-style ‘standard visitation orders’ place the children with the non-custodian between 20% to 25% of the time. Where is the non-custodian supposed to find money to feed, house, entertain and otherwise care for his children when we have already dragged him down to a level insufficient to support a single person at the custodial household’s level?”

Finally, how do we solve the problem? “Solving problem of child support enforcement requires attention to four distinct areas: (1) administrative procedures reform; (2) child support guideline reform; (3) custody reform; and (4) research to understand the lives of real people…Rather than devoting all our resources to the pathologies already in the pipeline, the child support enforcement community must begin to look at mechanisms for reducing the number of new cases that require servicing. Each unwed couple that marries is a child support success story. Each married couple that avoids divorce is a child support success story. Each shared parenting agreement that keeps both parents involved physically and emotionally in the child’s life is a child support success story.” The following are innovative programs that some states have adopted to assist in solving this problem: (Pages 142-147) 

1.  Parentage establishment

2.  Administrative support modifications

3. Temporary suspensions of support obligations

4. Temporary assistance to needy families (TANF)

5. Demilitarization of divorce

6. Child dependent tax exemption

7. Employment reporting

8. Pro Se procedures

9. Proof of custody

10. Due process

“Child support reform is needed but that reform must recognize obligors as citizens and as parents, not as anonymous beasts to be herded more efficiently. We know that the three best predictors of child support compliance are:

1. The fairness of the order

2. The obligor’s access to the child

3. The obligor’s work stability

Improvement in child support compliance must be addresses to these factors and not to old myths and stereotypes.”    

   “Child support guidelines suffer from irreparably flawed economic and policy principles and assumptions. Some of these flaws arose in the actual principles that guided the development of child support guidelines. Others arose only after these principles were implemented, exposing fatally flawed assumptions contained in the principles. The result compels the conclusion that the current child support guideline system is not broken, because that conclusion would imply that it can be fixed. Instead, it suffers irreparable structural design flaws and, as such, cannot be fixed in anything resembling its current form. Instead, a new analysis – focusing on fairness and with a complete understanding of the social implications of the underlying policies, and not focusing on higher or lower child support awards – must begin. America’s policy-makers at the state and federal levels must clearly define the exact nature of the state interest in child support awards and the carefully craft guidelines to achieve those interests.”







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