The True Cost of Unpaid Child Support
I got home one morning after a 12-hour night shift and the weather had turned from summer to winter overnight. I waved bye at my neighbor and yelled at my 10-year-old son to “Hurry up, grab your jacket, we are going to be late for school.” My son appeared out of his room in jeans and t-shirt. “Come ON! We’ve got to go! Get your jacket.” My son would not look at me and mumbled, “It doesn’t fit, I can’t wear it.”
My stomach started a sick tumbling motion as I said, “What do you mean, it doesn’t fit?”
My son pulled on one sleeve and sure enough, the cuff barely came below his elbow. The pain in my belly ramped up 5 notches. “Son, we’ve got to go, you will have to wear mine.” I yanked off my sweat jacket and tossed it to him. “Mom… I can’t.”
He looked at me with pure anguish welling up in his big brown eyes. “It’s pink”
I stared at my son whose jeans that I had bought in August during a back to school sale were already “high waters” exposing the fact that he desperately needed new shoes as well. My son, who had given up baseball because I could no longer pay the fee and uniforms, much less sacrifice time off of work to get him to practice and games. My son, who had not been invited to a single sleepover or birthday party since giving up his spot on the team. My son, who looked like a ragamuffin in his too-short jeans and beat up shoes. No, I could not make him put on a pink jacket and go to school in it.
“Come on, put it on and let’s run to Target and get you something. If we are late for school, I’ll walk you in. It’s ok.”
On the way to the store, I was frantic. The thoughts zipped across my mind like comets. “I can’t use my debit card, I don’t get paid until Friday and I’ve only got 10 bucks that I have to put in the gas tank to get to work. I used the Visa card last week for groceries and can’t use it again till I make a payment. I had used the MasterCard for school supplies and clothes – did I have enough room? I had only made the minimum payments since August. It was Tuesday, maybe I could write a check and pray that it wouldn’t hit my bank until my paycheck went in? What should I do? If my card is declined will the cashier let me write a check?”
We found a jacket for $19.99 and my MasterCard went through. I breathed out an audible sigh of relief and yanked the price tags off flashing my son a huge smile as I zipped him up.
He did not smile back. The fear I felt over yet another item he needed that I had no money for was all over his small face. His eyes reflected the misery and anxiety I felt constantly.
I was looking into the face of unpaid child support.
In the 2015 Report to Congress, published in 2016, the national arrears for child support was over $115 Billion dollars.
The percentage of custodial parents who do not receive any or all of court ordered child support is 59%, per Lawyers.com in a 2012 article on the National Crisis in Unpaid Child Support. Around 80% of those parents are single mother households. The national statistics on poverty differ depending on the study you read, but between the census bureau and USDA the number of single mother’s living below the poverty line is consistently in the 40th percentile with some states as high as 48%.
Let’s break down the figures by two states:
The 2015 Report to Congress is the most current data available online. The 2015 Report was published in 2016.
Arrears: Table 85: Colorado 1,176,711,492.00
If you are doing a double take at those numbers, yes, it is billions of dollars.
Unpaid child support is in the billions of dollars in almost every state. Money owed by court orders to provide for children’s need for food, housing, medical care, clothing, school supplies and child care.
Total Caseload per State with Arrears: Table 87: Colorado, 134,885 cases.
Texas 1,113,027 cases.
How is this possible?
Table 80 gives us the number of full-time staff per state:
In Colorado 718, in Texas 3014 staff members charged with protecting the best interests of our children.
Yet most single mother’s I speak with can show you arrears statements that are in the tens of thousands of dollars.
Single parents live with the stress of raising children alone coupled with crippling financial stress.
In the Mom’s Fight Back 2016 State of the State Report this question was asked of Colorado moms: What do you think are the three most pressing issues generally facing our family’s today?
The report states that: “One theme that rang clear was financial/economic issues as it relates to families.”
To relieve this issue, 19 years ago, President Bill Clinton signed into law the Deadbeat Parents Punishment Act of 1998. Why is this law not being enforced to protect our most vulnerable citizens? This is not only a raw deal for custodial parents but for American taxpayers as well.
Table 11 in the Report to Congress shows the amount of TANF payments distributed per state to children who should be receiving child support:
Over 50 million dollars in two states alone when these children should be supported by parents, not taxpayers. But the laws are not enforced.
The Federal Commissioner of Child Support Enforcement, Vicky Turetsky, has stated that “child support enforcement is solved.”
I think that these numbers show otherwise. She has also stated that arrears are falsely inflated by interest charged on arrears to prison inmates and other obligors who “are unable to pay”.
She published in December of 2016 her “Final Rule” that states she plans to implement “due process standards” to ensure that the obligor parent has the ABILITY to pay child support and any purge amounts. (arrears)
I see no safeguards in her Final Rule for the custodial parents, only inmates and deadbeat parents.
I have been to IV-D court several times. I have seen obligor parents stand in front of the judge, a pack of cigarettes in one pocket and an iPhone in the other, $400 pair of designer sunglass perched on their head and insist they are unemployed, and cannot pay child support. They walk out of the courtroom with a smile and an order to “get a job and report back earnings”.
Tens of thousands of custodial parents are voicing these complaints on social media platforms with eerily similar stories of non-custodial parents who take to working in the underground economy for cash, use a different family member’s social security number for employment, vehicles and property are registered in other names and process servers are lied to about the location of these parents to avoid further court and enforcement proceedings. In Texas, according to the legal department in Fort Worth, 66% of enforcement cases are thrown out for “non-suit of service.” If you can dodge process servers, you legally get out of paying your child support. So how does the Final Rule address this fact that almost two-thirds of cases in ONE state are not even reaching a judge for enforcement? These parents are not in jail or they would be easily located and served!
I see nothing in the Final Rule that addresses this willful evading of child support or enforcing the Deadbeats Parents Act.
This law makes it a federal crime to willfully avoid paying child support, moving to another state to avoid prosecution and arrears amounts of greater than $5,000. But this law is being ignored by the state agencies.
Service procedures in enforcement cases need to be strengthened so deadbeats cannot avoid court and enforcement of orders. Parents who consistently worked and earned for years prior to divorce and child support orders should not be able to stand in front of a judge and simply state they are unemployed or “can’t work” without proper medical documentation and thorough investigation of these claims, this is a violation of the law and the tax code.
Our children deserve better than this. Our children deserve to have jackets that fit when they need one. Our children deserve to play baseball. Our children deserve to have a custodial parent at home, who is not working two jobs to survive. Our children deserve to know that both parents are working to ensure they have the best start in life, no matter what the relationship between them.
If $115 billion dollars in unpaid child support offends you, as a parent, a grandparent, as a taxpayer, I urge you to contact your state senators and representatives. Contact the President and his staff members. Contact the Health and Human Services Secretary, Sylvia Mathews Burwell. Contact your state’s governor and attorney general. Tell them that $115 billion dollars nationally and the amount in your state is unacceptable and despicable, we want answers now.
Because the true cost of unpaid child support is reflected in the sad eyes of our children.