Understanding the Child Support System
For people who do not work within the child support system, it can be difficult to understand the agency’s policies and procedures. While it is commonly understood that child support exists to help ensure that parents live up to their financial responsibilities to their children, child support often prevents very low-income parents from contributing to their children’s material well-being.
Although child support is charged with acting in the best interests of children, social welfare policy requires that low-income parents who apply for assistance assign their right to child support to the state. As a result, some portion of the money that very low-income noncustodial parents can provide to help support their children can be kept by the state as reimbursement for social welfare benefits. This practice undeniably directs money and resources away from poor children, which is not in their best interests.
Child support has multiple enforcement mechanisms at its disposal, including driver’s license suspension, passport denial, and incarceration. Just the threat of these mechanisms can be very effective at ensuring middle and upper income noncustodial parents do not shirk their financial obligation to their children. These same practices, however, can have negative and far-reaching consequences for very low-income children and their parents. Studies show that low-income men do not pay child support because they do not have the money, not because they are trying to avoid their responsibilities. Driver’s license suspension and incarceration for nonpayment of child support often get in the way of very low-income men securing or maintaining employment. Without a job, noncustodial fathers do not have an income, cannot pay child support, and are unable to provide for the material well-being of their children.