Can’t Pay Child Support? Or Won’t?

Can’t Pay Child Support? Or Won’t?

Child Support: Millions Don’t Get Money, but Experts Can’t Agree on Why

Millions of parents are not receiving their court-ordered child support.But experts disagree on the reason– because parents can’t pay, or parents won’t pay. After a divorce, it’s tough enough to get through the emotional upheaval but add to ita spouse that’s in arrears for child support payments and you’ve got a big legal and financial mess to boot.

According to Jeffrey Leving, a Chicago attorney who specializes in father’s rights, of the parents who don’t pay, Most of them are not deadbeats, they are just dead broke.” Not so said Sari M. Friedman, a New York attorney who specializes in custody issues. She believes it comes down to financial perspective. Sometimes can’t or won’t is subjective,” Freidman said. Can you afford something? Is there a subjective element in that?It’s a system of priorities.”

Whatever the reason, about three-fourths of all parents who receive child support payments are not getting it. all or any of it. A recently released report by theU.S. Census puts the figure at 77 percent of custodial parents. A poll for, conducted by GFK Roper Public Affairs and Media, put the figure at closer to 70 percent.While most parents who receive court-ordered child support are women, when it comes to nonpayment of that money, there is no statistical difference between the sexes in delinquency, according to the census.

Leving, co-author of the Illinois Joint Custody Law and author of “Divorce Wars,” a guide to divorce battle tactics, believes the problem stems from the court system — which is ordering payments that are too high for most people to afford. And parents whose children live with their ex — called noncustodial parents — have a hard time getting the court to cut the payments when they can’t pay them.

But Friedman,who is general counsel for the Fathers Rights Association of New York and the Fathers Rights Association of Long Island, said two parents with the same financial means can make different choices — one might consider child support a priority and paywhile another parent might say he or she can’t pay because the money needs to go elsewhere.

Linda Leitz, a financial planner for Pinnacle Financial Concepts and author of “We Need to Talk: Money and Kids after Divorce,”thinks most people pay their child support, but Like anything, it’s those egregious exceptions to the rule that stand out and make us think abut how we can make the system better,”she said. Leitz, whose book focuses on resolving financial issues after divorce, believes most noncustodial parents have the means to make the court-ordered payments.For those who can’t because their pay has declined or they’ve lost their jobs,there’s always an option: If you really cannot pay, then by all means, get in front of a judge who will agree with you,”Leitz said.

If there are financial issues,a noncustodial parent should return to court or talk with their child support enforcement agency as soon as possible, said Elaine Garretson, who fought her ex-husband for 32 years for unpaid child support. Don’t ignore it because it is overwhelming,”said Garretson, who documented her experience in the book, “Deadbeat Daddy.”

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For attorney Eric Rosenkoetter, the issue is clear cut. Rosenkoetter,executive counsel for government relations and legislative affairs for SupportKids, a private child support collection agency, said some parents simply choose not to pay — even when they have the money. That’s a lot of parents not paying one single dime,” he said.

In his work, Rosenkoetter said, talking with the noncustodial parent about the mounting debt of court-ordered child support can help. He said noncustodial parents who get behind in their payments tend to give up completely. …That’s the worst thing they can do because it just gets them farther behind faster,” Rosenkoetter said.


Stories, advice and discussion about child support and related issues.

Michele Bush Kimball has a Ph.D. in mass communication with a specialization in media law. She has spent almost 15 years in the field of journalism, and she teaches at American University in Washington, D.C. She recently won a national research award for her work.

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