September 26, 2019 by Robert Franklin, JD, Member, National Board of Directors
It’s one of those “Advice from a Lawyer” columns, this time in the Northwest Herald, an Illinois publication. The issue? “I want to know where my child support goes.” (Northwest Herald, 8/23/19)
It’s an important issue for many, many non-custodial parents paying to an ex. We often see fathers or mothers complaining that “I pay every month, but when I see my child, she’s dressed in rags and hasn’t eaten recently.” Or words to that effect.
Put simply, the fact that non-custodial parents don’t know “where my child support goes” is one of the major reasons why obligors don’t want to pay. They have the sense that what they pay is spousal support, not child support.
So what’s the response to the query? This: you may want to know where your child support goes, but you can’t. The state makes no provision for answering your legitimate question. It assumes your ex is using the money for the child, but if they’re not, well, you have no recourse. We’ll shout to the heavens about how important supporting a child is, but what’s actually important to states is that money be transferred from one ex to another. Once that happens, we couldn’t care less what the recipient does with it.
As I’ve said before, we could solve this problem fairly easily. After all, we already do it with food stamps, so why not child support? Food stamps can be used only for certain items. You can’t buy beer with them but you can buy hot dogs and broccoli. So why not issue to the custodial parent a debit card the account for which is funded by the non-custodial parent? That debit card could only be used for certain child-related items like food, school supplies, clothing and the like. Either parent would then be entitled to access the payment record for that debit card to see what’s been purchased.
That should satisfy Non Custodial (NC) parents while maintaining the primary parent’s ability to provide for the needs of the child. Into the bargain, it would give the NC parent a ready-made record of all payments made, so there’d be no doubt about what had been paid and when. And if the recipient changed her/his address, neither the state’s collection authority nor the NC parent would have to be informed, since payments would be made to the same bank or credit union that issued the card.
But we’re not interested in the needs of parents charged with paying child support, so sensible arrangements like the one above are never even considered, much less tried.
The lawyer writing the response to the issue of what’s done with child support makes this excuse for the status quo:
If there is no provision for accounting or proof of where money was spent in the statute, there is no obligation to disclose where the money is spent. The silence on this provision supports the public policy of trying to reduce disputes between parties.
Ah, so telling the NC parent to essentially stop complaining about the fact that they’re paying, but the child obviously isn’t receiving the money is all about “reducing disputes.” I’d say it’s aggravating them, but of course there’s always an easier and far more constructive way to support the child and reduce disputes – equal parenting.
Equal parenting would vastly improve children’s well-being of course which should be not only the primary consideration in deciding policy on family separation, but the only one. But if children’s welfare isn’t enough, equal parenting confers other benefits as well. It does in fact reduce parental conflict post-divorce, regardless of what it’s about. And it reduces the need for child support to be paid to a relatively few instances in which one parent truly can’t meet her/his part of the child support obligation. Yes, that would reduce employment in state agencies that collect child support, but surely improved outcomes for children and reduced parental conflict would offset the trauma of state employees having to find another job. Right?