Several States Offering Child Support Amnesty
In honor of child support awareness month, Oklahoma and New Mexico are offering amnesty to noncustodial parents behind on child support who have warrants for their arrest because of unpaid child support.
The amnesty program offers a way for fathers burdened with huge amounts of child support debt to avoid jail time and get their lives back on track.
During the month of August, fathers can go to their child support office and pay their outstanding debt or renegotiate their child support payment plan without fear of arrest. They could even have their debt reduced if they have lost their job or their financial circumstances have changed since their child support order.
Even if the offenders cannot work out a new payment schedule, the state still promises that it will not arrest them meaning fathers have nothing to lose and everything to gain by coming in.
For fathers in New Mexico, the program is their last chance to avoid jail time, as police will begin a state-wide sweep to arrest all child support debtors who have a warrant for their arrest. While New Mexico is giving fathers a second chance before sending them to jail, New Jersey took a different approach. Just last month, New Jersey law enforcement officers had a state-wide sweep in which they arrested over 1,000 “deadbeat” parents with no preceding amnesty period.
Does the state owe child support offenders an amnesty period?
On one hand, these fathers broke the law and may be leaving their children destitute. But on the other, judges often burden fathers with too-high dues that they cannot realistically pay.
In fact, 70 percent of the national uncollected child support debt is owed by noncustodial parents with annual earnings below $10,000 — or no quarterly earnings at all.
And if fathers fall behind on their payments, even a little, the system penalizes them by charging interest, so they fall even farther behind. Then, after they have reached a certain amount of debt, the state can take away their drivers’ licenses and other privileges, which may impede their ability to work. Finally, they reach the bottom of their downward spiral and end up in jail because of their inability to pay — not because they chose not to pay — creating a virtual debtor’s prison.
Modifying child support is very difficult.
The process to modify child support is often lengthy and expensive; so many men don’t take advantage of it. Once they’ve fallen behind on their support even a little, they would be arrested if they went into court to try and modify it to an amount that fits their income.
Hence, a child support amnesty month, where these men can modify their payments without fear of arrest is an extremely useful program. It does not let fathers off the hook of their responsibility, but instead allows fathers to actually pay a child support amount they can afford.
Child support amnesty months return some element of fairness to an overly punitive system.
Child support amnesty offers many benefits.
Child support amnesty months help the states collect more child support money than they otherwise would have.
Sending child support debtors to jail decreases the likelihood that the state, or their children, will ever see the money owed. Also, when the debtor is in jail, it is now the state’s responsibility to pay for his food and housing, which costs the state more money.
Child support amnesty months not only benefit the state but also the debtors and their children. Hopefully more states will begin to offer these programs in the future.