Many of the noncustodial dads served by organizations and programs like yours struggle to pay child support.
The ability of fathers to pay child support has been an issue in sore need of addressing at the federal and state levels for many years. After all, if a father can’t afford to pay the child support he owes, it has bad consequences for him, his child, and the mother or guardian of his child.
That’s why a new rule issued by the Administration for Children and Families (ACF)—the federal agency responsible for child support enforcement and partnering with state, tribal, and local child support agencies—has the potential to positively transform the collection of child support across the country. Although some important provisions didn't make it into the final rule that advocates, including National Fatherhood Initiative, say would have made the rule even more transformative, everyone with a stake in creating effective child support enforcement should be optimistic about its potential.
Specifically, according to ACF, this new rule will make state child support enforcement programs more effective, flexible, and family-friendly. It requires state child support agencies to increase their case investigative efforts to ensure that child support orders—the amount noncustodial parents are required to pay each month—reflect the parent’s ability to pay.
The goal of this new rule is to set realistic orders so that noncustodial parents pay regularly, rather than setting an unrealistically high order that results in higher rates of nonpayment. Mark Greenberg, HHS Assistant Secretary for Children and Families, had this to say of the new rule:
“We know from research that when child support orders are set unrealistically high, noncustodial parents are less likely to pay. In fact, several studies say compliance declines when parents are ordered to pay above 15 to 20 percent of their income.”
“By ensuring states set their orders based on actual circumstances in the family, we believe the rule will result in more reliable child support payments, and children will benefit.”
The new rule updates the child support program by amending existing policy. Here are a few highlights of the new rule:
- ensure child support obligations are based upon accurate information and the noncustodial parents’ ability to pay
- increase consistent timely payments to families as well as the number of noncustodial parents supporting their children
- strengthen procedural fairness
- improve child support collection rates
- reduce the accumulation of unpaid and uncollectible child support arrearages
- incorporate evidence-based standards tested by states that support good customer service
- increase program efficiency and simplify operational requirements, including standardizing and streamlining payment processing so employers are not unduly burdened
- incorporate technological advances that support cost-effective management practices and streamlined intergovernmental enforcement
- prohibit states from excluding incarceration from consideration as a substantial change in circumstances, require states to notify parents of their right to request a review and adjustment of their order if they will be incarcerated for more than six months, and ensure that child support orders for those who are incarcerated reflect the individuals’ circumstances while continuing to allow states significant flexibility in setting orders for incarcerated parents
- require state child support agencies to make payments directly to a resident parent, legal guardian, or individual designated by the court in order to reign in aggressive and often inappropriate practices of third-party child support collection agencies
Of particular note is how the new rule addresses the ability of incarcerated fathers to meet their child support obligation. So many of these fathers—including those who participate in our InsideOut Dad® program—are caught in the jaws of child support orders that consider their incarceration to be “voluntary unemployment.” As a result, they can’t alter their child support orders to consider the impact of their incarceration on their ability to pay. They often owe huge sums of money when released. (Click here for more details on how the Obama administration is helping incarcerated parents with child support.)
As someone who serves fathers, the release of this new rule signals that its time to review how much you know about child support enforcement and its impact on fathers and families. Here’s what you can do.
- Review the new rule in its entirety. (See the links at the end of this post.) Pay special attention to how it will affect child support collection in your state.
- Because states have a lot of leeway in establishing child support orders, learn how child support enforcement (CSE) works in your state. Which agency houses CSE? How family- and father-friendly is your state’s CSE? Does your state’s CSE have a fatherhood initiative or program?
- Read our past posts on child support. (See the links to some of these posts at the end of this post.)
- Review how well your organization or program addresses child support issues. Does your organization or program help noncustodial fathers increase their knowledge about how the system works and can work for them? Does your organization or program help these fathers with their ability to pay (e.g. advocating with the courts to reduce child support arrearages as a consequence of completing a fatherhood program)? If you find your organization or program lacking in this area, implement efforts to change that.
Links to Final Rule
Links to Child Support Posts
- What Child Support Enforcement Says about Responsible Fatherhood
- How to Help Fathers with Child Support Issues
- Surprising Facts about Payments of Child Support
- How to Help Fathers Navigate the Child Support System
Do you know everything you need to know about child support enforcement?