MA Knocks Down Interest on Overdue Child Support by 50%

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Fathers and Families

MA Knocks Down Interest on Overdue Child Support by 50%
December 6, 2010
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Massachusetts Knocks Down Interest on Overdue Child Support by 50%

The Massachusetts Department of Revenue has decided to knock down the interest rate on overdue child support by 50%. This is a move for which Fathers and Families has long advocated and agitated, both publicly and by Board Chairman Ned Holstein, MD, MS during his service on the Massachusetts Child Support Task Force. While interest rates still remain too high, we commend the DOR for this action.

Fathers and Families has long fought to reform Massachusetts child support, and was successful in lowering noncustodial parents’ child support by an estimated $200 million a year from 2001 to 2007. Holstein and numerous Fathers and Families members testified earlier this year at the DOR hearing considering the issue. Our testimony focused on the benefits lowered interest rates would produce both for people struggling to pay their child support and for the state. Holstein stated:
Interest and penalty charges often work against the interests of states and their citizens. According to a 2007 study by the Urban Institute, eighteen states routinely charge interest, eighteen states and Guam intermittently charge interest, and fourteen states, Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands and the District of Columbia do not charge interest at all. Massachusetts, like other states, does face significant challenges in collecting interest and penalties. States that routinely charge interest have experienced a much larger increase in arrears than other states.

The Urban Institute study found that from 1987 to 2006, states that charged interest saw a tenfold increase in arrears, going from $5.4 billion in 1987 to $58.7 billion in 2006. Other states saw arrears grow about half as fast. States with no interest saw their arrears grow from $2.8 billion in 1987 to $19.5 billion in 2006...

Penalties are also wrong for Massachusetts. Penalties on child support arrearages are inappropriate and hurt families. The problem of unpaid arrearages is primarily a problem of poverty. The Institute also found that 70% of all arrearages are owed by obligors who earn less than $10,000, and 96% are owed by obligors who earn less than $40,000. Other factors contributing to arrearages are loss of job, decreased earnings, illness and disability, the difficulty in obtaining modifications when misfortune strikes, pervasive errors by the Office of Child Support Enforcement (as documented in 2000 by the Massachusetts Auditor), incarceration, misidentification of the father, lack of notice of paternity, and unrealistically high support orders.

None of these circumstances is helped by charging either interest or penalties. Neither does stronger enforcement of child support requirements work under such circumstances. Instead, as indigent fathers accumulate child support debts, they feel as if they must evade the child support system and the risk of incarceration. They are driven underground by an unforgiving system. The custodial parents and the Commonwealth then experience the complete termination of payments.

Worst of all, when fathers go underground, their children also lose contact with them. Thus, they lose the most valuable thing the indigent father has to offer his children — his love and guidance, not his money, of which he has very little. Massachusetts needs to find another way to support its indigent children than to pretend that indigent fathers have money that they do not have, and then compounding the problem with interest and penalties...
To read Holstein’s full testimony, click here.

Several Fathers and Families members testified at the DOR hearing.  John Natale wondered how the interest rate came to be 18% in the first place when he is refinancing his mortgage for 4.65%.  The DOR also heard from Sarah Blackford – a mother who depends on child support, but still thinks these interest rates are far too high.  She told the story of her friend who is constantly struggling to pay his child support, but is stuck in a $40,000 hole of interest and penalties that he may never be able to dig himself out of.

Chris Jenson stated simply and clearly why the current interest rate is outrageous.  He told the story of falling behind on child support by $375 and reported that he has now paid the $375, but he still owes $1,240 in interest and penalties – almost three times as much as the amount originally owed.  F & F members Bill Zamzow, Hector Montalvo, Philip Alvarado, and Franco Marzouki also testified to the importance of lowering the interest rate.

An Appeal to Women from Fathers and Families Board Member Elizabeth Barton, Ph.D. 

BartonLike many of you, I have witnessed first-hand the unfair treatment that fathers — and sometimes mothers — receive at the hands of a court system which often cares little for protecting the loving bonds between children and both their parents. It was very painful to watch my husband and stepchildren endure this treatment.  It would be a nightmare to see it happen one day to one of my children.

As a woman, a Board Member of Fathers and Families, a mother of three children and two stepchildren, and a second wife, I appeal to women to support family court reform.

Why do I work with Fathers and Families, specifically?  Because we are the only family court reform organization that is engaged in the political process on a professional level. Because of this approach, we are getting results.

This year Fathers and Families led the passage of seven different family law bills nationwide, including five in the bellwether state of California. Our legislation grows out of the needs of Fathers and Families members and supporters such as yourself. Our recently passed bills include child custody reform, child support reform, alimony reform, protection from family court financial abuses, and others. A more detailed list of our many legislative accomplishments can be seen here.

But legislative work isn’t just about passing good bills—it’s also about defeating harmful and misguided ones. A simple failure to act has been one of the critical shortcomings of the family court reform movement for the past several decades. In large states, there are often 50 or more family law bills introduced into each legislative session. Most are benign, but some are harmful to families. For years this movement has inadvertently let bad legislation through because we did not have fulltime staff and legislative representatives to monitor legislation and defeat harmful bills.

Fathers and Families is different. For example, this year powerful California organizations put forward two bills that would have made it very difficult for target parents of Parental Alienation to get courts to act. We were able to build strong coalitions to defeat both bills. This was a huge victory, not just for California families, but also for those in other states who would have faced similar legislation had these bills passed.

We have an ambitious, exciting legislative agenda for 2011 which we will soon be unveiling. The Fathers and Families model works, but it also requires resources and a lot of help from you.

Family court reform is not just a men’s issue. It can affect everyone. My goal is to raise money from WOMEN to expand and extend Fathers and Families’ family court reform efforts. There are three ways to give: If you give by check, please write “Betsy” in the memo line. If you give via credit card or pay pal, please email me so I can thank you personally.

Thank you in advance for your generous support of Fathers and Families.

Together with you in the love of our children,

Elizabeth Barton, AM, Ph.D.
Board Member, Fathers and Families
Irvine, CA

P.S. For more information about giving options, please visit

F & F in the Media
F & F of Ohio Quoted in 10 Newspapers on Bill to Increase Child Support Obligations


Donald Hubin, Ph.D., Chairman of Fathers and Families of Ohio’s Executive Committee, was quoted in 10 Ohio newspapers this week concerning SB 292, an Ohio bill to increase child support obligations.

Reporter Jessica Alaimo of the Media Network of Central Ohio wrote:
The proposal already has drawn criticism. Donald Hubin leads the Ohio chapter of Fathers and Families, an interest group dedicated to family court reform. He said although the child support schedule has not changed since 1992, it is based on income, which has on average increased, therefore payments have, too…

The bill also has provisions to help those with an income below the poverty line. Fleischman said the bill establishes a “self-support reserve” to make sure noncustodial parents with an income below the federal poverty line can first afford to support themselves.

Hubin supports this clause.

“It’s intended to insure child support obligations don’t push people below the poverty level,” Hubin said. “What that does is push those fathers at that level out of their children’s lives.”
To read the full article, see the Media Network of Central Ohio’s Legislation would increase payments for child support (11/28/10).

To learn more about SB 292 and to participate in our campaign to stop the bill, please click here.

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