The COVID-19 pandemic is affecting everyone. And that includes parents who are paying child support. In fact, the economic devastation the virus has produced threatens to be disastrous for many of these parents. And NPO is taking a strong stand to try to protect these parents.
When parents in an intact marriage have any sort of economic setback, they tighten their belts to work through the hard times. When parents who pay child support have an economic setback, they get in arrears on child support and these arrearages can build quickly and be difficult to discharge even when income is restored. This is a troubling, but familiar, problem. What’s new—what the COVID-19 pandemic has wrought—is on a different scale. Without swift government action, we’re headed for a catastrophe for millions of parents.
The mandated economic shutdown will result in millions of paying parents who have never been behind on their child support payments suddenly being in arrears. The closure of many courts means that these parents can’t file a motion for modification of their child support. Even when the courts open up, there will be significant backlogs. And, unless lawmakers and child support officials take dramatic action, the strong enforcement measures intended to coerce child support evaders—those who have the ability to pay but are unwilling to—will be applied to parents who have lost income because of the deep economic recession.
The extraordinary times we are living through call for extraordinary measures from legislators and child support professions. This is why NPO has endorsed four resolutions concerning the handling of child support obligations in the COVID-19 era. The NPO Board passed resolutions calling for:
- Congress to amend the stimulus program so that those in arrears on child support do not have their stimulus checks seized to recoup the past-due child support. The seizure of these funds denies these parents needed funds and, because almost all of the seized funds go to state and federal government coffers, this seizure blunts the stimulus effect of the program.
- Congress to suspend the Bradley Amendment, which prohibits states from retroactively modifying child support to a time prior to the filing of a motion for modification. With the courts closed, this means that many parents will be run up an arrearage that will be very difficult to repay.
- State legislatures to suspend their laws that prohibit the retroactive modification of child support to a time prior to the filing of a motion for modification.
- Child support officials to suspend the enforcement mechanisms for the duration of the COVID-19 caused recession. These mechanisms, which include license suspension and routine reporting to credit bureaus, are designed to be used against child support evaders but they will unintentionally make it harder for responsible parents to recover financially and support their children.
NPO has communicated these resolutions to key members of Congress and to key child support officials.
We urge you to do your part, too. If you haven’t contacted your state and federal legislators calling on them to address these problems, please do so. Send them copies of the NPO resolutions and urge them to do the right thing to prevent a disaster that doesn’t have to happen but certainly will if they do nothing.