This may be unique to New York, although I doubt it, but the laws there permit police to seize assets of parents who are not current on child support. Until recently, it was a rarely, if ever, enforced law. Now, however, the current Governor of New York is actively seizing vehicles owned by payor parents (parents under a court ordered obligation to pay child support) who owe as little as $100 in unpaid child support. Well, not him personally, but one thing is clear, New York means business when it comes to collecting child support.

In Virginia, it is not uncommon for the Division of Child Support Enforcement (DCSE) to actively pursue arrears from “deadbeat” parents. Deadbeat parents are characterized as those who prioritize paying every other bill before providing court ordered monetary support to another parent for the benefit of their children. My experience as a family law attorney is that Virginia is no slouch either when it comes to collecting support. The local team of attorneys here in Virginia Beach are both competent and aggressive. They do their job well. If seizing personal property were an option, they too would get the job done. They do their job extremely well.

No One Said It Would Be Easy

Some payor parents argue that they simply cannot afford it. They may work two or more jobs and are unable to meet their basic living expenses. Maybe they have a felony conviction and are struggling to find a job in the first place. In any event, paying child support is at the bottom of a long list of financial obligations that is sadly ignored or neglected. Mind you, this is not the norm. For the most part, payor parents pay their support, on time and in full. They may have problems with the system, but they do not make excuses. They make supporting their child a priority and it doesn’t stop with paying a child support bill each month.

In other cases, the noncustodial parent makes enough to pay, but doesn’t believe in the system. They just can’t bear the thought of paying the other parent any amount of money for child support. It’s just not happening. In their opinion, it is not being spent directly on their child. They believe the other parent is wasteful and that they are not putting their child first. They want an accounting of how the money is spent and are confused when they find out the system won't allow it. What they often fail to understand is how child support indirectly benefits the child: an extra room in the house, a roof over his or her head, extra food in the house, utilities, etc. There are exceptions, but for the most part, the child support that exchanges hands doesn’t even come close to covering expenses for the child, especially when parenting is done right. Even when a payor parent sees the light, he or she would rather rear the child on his or her own than pay the other to do it. Child support is a strong motivating factor behind why many parents fight so vigorously for custody in the first place.

It’s the Child Who Suffers

Child support is mostly a numbers game. A formula churns out a presumably accurate level of child support based upon the State’s assessment of what is needed by a custodial parent to maintain a basic standard of living for the child. It’s not perfect, but it often times fails to provide everything a child needs. Those on the paying end tend to believe it’s more than enough – overkill. They see it as the other parent’s discretionary spending money rather than as support for their child. Payee parents see it as a mere token – it’s never enough.

Just as common as it is to hear arguments from payor parents obligated by court order to provide child support for their child that it is too much, it’s nearly as common to hear payee parents argue that it’s never enough. Some parents have children by several different men (fathers) and use support as a means to avoid providing for themselves. They want more than guidelines provide and believe no amount is ever enough. This type of parents sees their child and his or her father as a meal ticket. They don’t want a partner is rearing their child, they only want his or her money. It’s the child who is on the losing end of this type of battle. Mom gets her meal ticket and the child gets an absent father.

A battle over child support between parents is a lose/lose situation for the child.

How Can We Fix It?

So, with all of this, how do we motivate the payor parents to timely pay their child support obligation? Do we, as the DCSE does here in Virginia, suspend their driver’s license? Do we drag them into court and threaten jail-time until a purge amount is met? Do we, as they are now doing in New York, seize a valuable asset and sell it at auction? Constitutional issues aside, selling a $10,000 automobile at auction to recover $100 in child support seems a tad bit overly aggressive. Will any of this really motivate an unwilling parent under a court ordered obligation of support?

The arguments against pursuing such aggressive methods of collection go something like this: If we suspend their license, it will impede their ability to get to work. Not working will mean they cannot pay child support. It will affect their livelihood and ability to maintain stable employment. This is particularly true of a convicted felon who is actively employed. If we jail them, even for a few days, the same affect may reveal itself. If we seize their car and sell it at auction – again, the same. But if we do nothing, they won’t pay either. The other side of the argument reveals the sad truth – doing nothing just lets them get away with it. The only winner is the deadbeat parent. In the end, it’s the child that suffers – no matter what course of action we take. The short term fix or motivation garnered from suspending a license, jailing for contempt, or selling a seized asset, will only serve to create even bigger problems down the road.

So, do we just cut our losses and get as much out of them now as we possibly can, knowing we won’t see another dime from them in the future? I believe this is the question the courts wrestle with everyday. The same people keep coming back to court, each time with less to pay and more excuses for not paying. If you have children and you are under a court ordered obligation to pay child support, pay it.

Child Support Is A Priority - Pay It!

If you cannot afford to pay your child support, seek to have it amended to an appropriate level. Do something to affect change in a broken system. Civil disobedience is not the answer. If you’ve done all you can in that regard, then make sure you pay that bill first. Pay it before you pay your rent. Pay it before you buy your food. Pay it before you pay your utilities. If you don’t and DCSE or the court pursues a cause of action against you for nonpayment, you could lose it all. Maybe not at first and maybe not all at once, but eventually you may. There really is no valid legal defense for not paying your child support. There is not much an attorney can do for you. Make an effort. Pay your child support!

What are your thoughts on how we should handle child support enforcement?

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