Barbara J. Katzenberg, Attorney at Law
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Is it time to update the nation's child support program?

The nation's child support program and enforcement of child support are being questioned by several stakeholders. Along with a lot of love and time, raising a child also requires money, making it extremely difficult for both custodial and noncustodial parents in the low-income groups. While current child support laws recognize the need for the support of both parents, courts nationwide, including in Massachusetts, sometimes order noncustodial parents to pay unrealistic amounts of child support.

There is no argument that noncustodial parents who can afford to pay child support but refuse must face the full force of the legal consequences. However, the majority of parents who fail to pay child support are unable to pay the amount of child support ordered by the court. It was reported that this group of parents -- those earning less than $10,000 a year -- represents almost 70 percent of uncollected child support. Some believe that the punishment of incarceration only serves to exacerbate the problem as it promotes the accumulation of arrears by creating a cycle of incarceration and unemployment because of criminal records.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' Office of Child Support Enforcement is one of the stakeholders, and it recently proposed an update to the child support system of the nation. It wants courts to consider the financial abilities of fathers when ordering child support, as non-payment adversely affects both parents and children. The proposal includes the need for states to provide employment services that will assist unemployed parents to reach financial stability that will enable them to support their children.

Noncustodial parents in Massachusetts who are burdened with unrealistic child support orders may find comfort knowing that there is a remedy. By demonstrating to the court that a job was lost, or that unexpected high medical expenses occurred -- or any valid reason for the lack of funds, a modification may be granted. Requesting a child support modification immediately upon such an occurrence may result in a court allowing a more affordable amount that may prevent the consequences of total nonpayment.

Source: The Baltimore Sun, "Unrealistic child support orders hurt rather than help", Joe Jones, Joan Entmacher, Aug. 6, 2015

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