April 30, 2020 by Robert Franklin, JD, Member, National Board of Directors
There’s quite a conflict that’s arisen due to Congress’ decision to disallow stimulus checks being paid to anyone owing back child support. As I pointed out here, child support obligors stand alone among debtors in being denied those funds. Have you fallen behind in repaying your student loans? No matter, you get a check. Didn’t pay your taxes in past years? IRS hot on your trail? You still get a check. Do you in fact owe the government or anyone else for any reason at all? You still get a stimulus check as long as you otherwise qualify for one.
Only those who owe child support are omitted.
That’s of course true despite the fact that child support orders have been acknowledged for years to often be beyond the ability of the non-custodial parent to pay. The Office of Child Support Enforcement has been saying so for years. Plus, overwhelmingly, child support obligors are the poorest of the poor, so the refusal to give them stimulus checks hits directly at those who need them most.
Like much of child support law and practice, the refusal to send checks to non-custodial parents is frankly punitive in nature. For decades, and despite much social science on non-custodial parents, we’ve referred to them as “deadbeat dads,” the assumption being that, if they fail to pay the ordered amount, they do so out of spite or simply not caring about their child’s well-being. That’s seldom the case, but the narrative of the non-custodial cad survives intact and drives public policy. The decision on stimulus checks is just the latest example of many.
After all, the poor don’t have much of a lobby in Congress, so there’s no political downside to continuing to pillory them. And politicians can always use the occasion to strike the pose of “tough on deadbeat dads,” i.e. those who are too poor and often too poorly educated to fight back. It was once thought unseemly to “kick a man when he’s down,” but Congress has long been happy to do just that. Tough guys, indeed.
But some seem to know better (WISTV, 4/10/20). The Chief Justice of the South Carolina Supreme Court has issued an order prohibiting the arrest of anyone for failing to pay child support. The order is only good for 30 days, but may be extended, depending on the status of COVID-19 and the attendant economic slowdown when it expires.
It may seem like a small thing, but against the backdrop of our continuing blindness to the realities faced by child support obligors, it’s refreshing to see one person for whom the “deadbeat dad” narrative doesn’t trump common sense.