The Cost Of Unpaid Child Support


Every family law attorney knows that child support collections remain a serious issue in this country. Many families are dependent upon child support to get by, and without regular contributions from the non-custodial parent, those families wind up on public assistance. It’s great that we have that social safety net in place, but it comes at a cost to the tax payer. Technically, the government is entitled to collect the past-due child support, but that’s easier said than done. At the end of the day, we wind up spending a lot of money to enforce child support orders and receive very little from child support collections.

I was researching the subject and decided to put together this infographic. The numbers are shocking.

Cost of Unpaid Child Support

Uncollected child support costs tax payers billions of dollars.

UPDATE: I want to address a bit of feedback I’ve received regarding the infographic.

First, the infographic is intentionally gender neutral. I have worked on more than a few cases where dad has residential custody and mom isn’t paying support. Unpaid child support harms the residential parent regardless of gender.

Second, when I talk about irresponsible parents, I’m not talking about the parent who is struggling to make support payments or has to reduce his or her child support obligation because of a change in income (which is commonplace). I am talking about the people who simply disappear when ordered to pay support or take cash-only jobs so they can entirely avoid their child support obligation (this is also commonplace). Not only is there a massive social cost, but it also is unfair to the men and women who are finding a way to pay child support. It’s important to note that child support is ALMOST ALWAYS modifiable, especially in situations where the payor’s income changes. Not only that, but there are family allotments for people receiving unemployment checks, so it’s not as though someone loses their job and has to decide between paying child support with money he or she doesn’t have or letting their child suffer.

Third, there’s no way around it: our child support system is flawed. We have operated at two ends of the spectrum and neither is perfect. Remember, child support awards used to be very discretionary and subjective. That’s unfair to everyone involved, as it fails to guarantee a baseline level of assistance and places the payor in an unpredictable situation. He or she simply wouldn’t know what to expect from the judge. Our guideline system is better, but sometimes we push square pegs in round holes. In Illinois, you can deviate from child support guidelines, but sometimes that’s easier said than done. Nonetheless, I hope the infographic also captures the cost of our child support system. I don’t know if changing the application of child support guidelines would result in higher collection rates, but I do think that our current collection rate leaves something to be desired.

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