Starting late last year and continuing into earlier this year, a new federal policy shifted the focus of child support enforcement and could affect among other things the amount of money custodial parents receive from their non-custodial ex-spouses. The federal government, working in tandem with state agencies, provides oversight and regulation of State child support enforcement. The policy change was in response to past child support formulas that set payment amounts at levels the non-custodial parent had no chance of reaching and frequently left them a lifetime of being chased by this debt. Broadly speaking, the new policy attempts to reallocate resources from strict collection efforts to ways of reintegrating the non-custodial parent back into the support system through methods like forgiving outstanding overdue child support and job placement services. Given that most custodial parents rely heavily on child support payments to sufficiently fund their household expenses, it is important to examine what exactly the new policy will implement, and what, if any, effect it will have on the financial stability of single parents.
Outline of New Child Support Enforcement Policy
In a notice released by the Administration for Children & Families (ACF) to state enforcement agencies in April 2015, ACF discussed the importance of improving the “financial capability” of parents so they would be less likely to need public assistance. Essentially, “financial capability” refers to the ability of both parents to successfully manage their economic resources and is typically provided to parents through a combination of state education programs on financial counseling and job placement services. The thought behind this approach is the better each parent is able to manage their money, the more effectively it will be used to benefit the child.
In addition to providing financial services, ACF published a proposed rule in November 2014 requesting states to calibrate their child support calculations to the noncustodial parent’s actual income instead of relying on a formula to determine the applicable amount. This is supposed to increase the likelihood they will be able to pay. Specifically, they want states to ideally limit child support obligations to no more than 15% of the non-custodial parent’s monthly income based on studies that indicated child support that is more than 20% of monthly incomes commonly results in a higher percentage of non-compliance. Coupled with a refinement of child support guidelines, the proposed rule also wants states to stop imposing jail time for non-payment of child support unless the non-custodial parent has the actual ability to pay the required amount and yet failed to do so. A court should look at actual earnings and the amount needed for basic subsistence when determining if the parent had the ability to pay. Further, the court should set the purge amount, which is the amount the parent must pay to avoid jail time, in line with the actual ability to pay. If the parent has no ability to pay, the court should impose requirements like getting a job or participating in a job placement program in lieu of jail time. This policy reflects the belief that incarcerating parents who have no way of paying the amount in arrears will only further prevent them from earning income and push them further into the red.
Potential Impact on Custodial Parents
The new emphasis on the financial responsibility of both parents seems to shift some of the burden from the non-custodial parent to the custodial parent to find a way to sustain the needs of the child without regard to child support. However, the new proposed rules on child support enforcement may encourage non-custodial parents who are behind on child support payments to make more of an effort to obtain legitimate employment if they know jail time is not a possibility and the amount they will be required to pay will be something they can afford. Until states enact laws to implement the rules, it will be hard to gauge whether they will result in more compliance with child support orders, but it seems this will be a move towards a softer approach to child support enforcement over the next few years.
For more information on Florida Law regarding this matter, contact All Family Law Group, P.A. in Tampa provides legal representation for all child support-related matters. Contact the Tampa family and divorce lawyers at All Family Law Group, P.A. in Tampa Bay at 813-816-2232 for a consultation at no charge or email us.
By Lynette Silon-Laguna Google+