Child Support Suffers a Downturn

States are about to start snagging tax refunds from parents who are past due on child support payments. And the number of overdue payments is growing because of the recession.

In Tennessee, for example, the state says it is collecting less in child support than it did last year, the first decline in a decade.

Some parents are going back to court to have their child support payments reduced because, they say, the payments were based on a full-time job that they no longer have.

The Tennessean reports:

"Across the country, child support collectors are reporting a downturn this year, said Kim Bridges, president-elect of the National Child Support Enforcement Association. As well, she said, agencies are collecting more child support from unemployment benefits and less from employers.

"There is so much concern about the trend, Bridges' group is discussing forming partnerships with employers and job training agencies where collectors can refer child support payers who are out of work.

"Tennessee's Department of Human Services has a number of tools to collect child support from parents ordered to pay -- about 90 percent are fathers -- including tracking them from job to job, garnishing wages or unemployment benefits, and seizing tax returns or lottery winnings, said Mike Adams, director of the state's child support services.

"The department also has the authority to suspend drivers' and professional licenses as well as the passports of individuals who do not pay. In the worst cases, officials can file contempt of court charges, and judges may sentence a parent to up to 10 days in jail for each violation."

CBS News pointed out recently that divorce rates drop in a recession precisely because of the costs of child support and legal advice, and because couples can't afford to sell their homes.

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    Al Tompkins

    Al Tompkins is The Poynter Institute’s senior faculty for broadcasting and online. He has taught thousands of journalists, journalism students and educators in newsrooms around the world.


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