March 18, 2019 by Robert Franklin, Member, National Board of Directors, National Parents Organization
The Missouri Department of Social Services appears to be discriminating against non-custodial parents in its child support enforcement policies and, more important, violating federal and state laws and regulations regarding non-custodial parents’ access to downward modifications of child support orders.
That’s the message sent by NPO’s Linda Reutzel and three others in two letters to the DSS acting director and the director of its child support division.
DSS regulations routinely refer to the parent owing child support as the “absent” parent or the “non-custodial parent.” Both suggest a state of affairs that’s generally untrue in child custody cases. The notion that the payer of child support is in any way “absent” from his child’s life is almost always untrue.
Plus, the DSS refers to the parent receiving child support as its “client.” And what of the obligor parent? The clear implication is that that person is of no interest to DSS. That’s probably true, but the fact remains that the federal government parcels out meager amounts to states to help enforce orders of visitation. Missouri receives some of those funds and presumably spends them in accordance with federal law and regulations, i.e. to help parents enforce those access orders. That makes those parents the “clients” of DSS, but nowhere in DSS statements does it acknowledge the fact.
Worse, Missouri regulations require an obligor parent to prove three things in order to receive a downward modification of child support based on a loss of income. First, the loss of income must have been in place for at least three consecutive months. Second, there must be at least a 50% loss of income and finally, the obligor must in some way prove that the loss will continue for at least six additional months into the future. How he’s supposed to do that is anyone’s guess.
But it gets worse still. DSS won’t even consider a downward modification of a child support order unless it’s been in effect for at least three years. Any obligor parent who loses his job six months or a year after the issuance of the order is out of luck, regardless of everything else.
Co-author of the letters, Ken Goins of Protecting American Families, put the matter best: “[The rules] often hurt the very children they are intended to help because they very often destroy the financial well-being of the obligor-parent who is struggling to make it through unemployment, under-employment, layoffs, furloughs, reduction in work-force, restructured wage-agreements etc.”
We’ll see how the state officials respond. But however they do, the state of child support policy in the Show Me State looks to violate not only federal law and regulations, but common sense as well.