Why Is There Increased Discussion About Child Support and “Self-Support” Needs?
Low-income child support payers are commonly perceived as creating their own problems. Instead and more often, problems actually arise due to little-understood Georgia law on child support as applied in low-income situations. Georgia’s child support laws have been found and documented to be notably excessive and unaffordable for low-income noncustodial parents. Not fixing this issue has far more pervasive adverse effects than many believe.
Low-Income Child Support Obligors in Georgia: What’s the Problem?
- As a starting point, it likely is appropriate to think about these issues as a choice between short-term “promises” by the state to custodial parents that they are entitled to high child support awards (high relative to income) or to the guideline choices that lead to better income outcomes (and child support) in the longer run (or even just somewhat down the road).
- Eliminating excessive child support turns out to give low-income child support payers a better chance at some type of respectable career in the job market and a better chance at being a good father. All eventually win (NCP, CP, the child, and even the community) with passing legislation that acknowledges that affordable is better than excessive—even if in the short-run, affordable seems low.
- Basically, Georgia’s child support awards for low-income noncustodial parents (NCPs) are unaffordable. Low-income NCPs frequently cannot pay both child support and cover their own basic needs for living.
- Georgia has one of the highest child cost tables in the Southeast and in the U.S. for low-income NCPs.
In this chart, “BCSO” is Basic Child Support Obligation—the main part of a child support award (all costs except day care and health insurance). It compares child support costs (vertical axis) to monthly gross income (horizontal). It is combined income of mother and father, but one can see the impact on the NCP father if all of the combined income comes from the father. Georgia is far higher at low incomes and the highest at moderately high segments of low income.
- Official Georgia studies show a huge percentage of low-income obligors being pushed below the poverty level if they pay the court ordered amount. They cannot keep enough income to meet basic self-support needs.
This chart shows the results from the data in the most recent study of child support cases by the Georgia Commission on Child Support. It shows that over one fourth of NCPs in the study were pushed below the poverty level by the award made by the court. When one looks at a slightly higher standard for basic needs (120 percent of the poverty level to pay payroll taxes), 38.5 percent are pushed below basic needs income by court-ordered child support.
- But to pay for basic needs, low-income NCPs cannot pay ordered child support and have a place to live, basic clothes, and simple food to eat. These NCPs fall behind and run up large arrears largely due to no fault of their own—because of excessive cost tables and no guideline guarantee of keeping income to live even at the poverty level.
Fear of losing a job, losing a driver’s license, or being arrested is constant when child support is excessive.
- Most NCPs are fathers. When these fathers fall behind on child support, they have drivers’ licenses and professional licenses suspended. They cannot work and fall further behind. Many NCPs with arrearages turn to a cash society and hide from the legal system. In turn, children lose their fathers, and communities also lose a key part of families and a source of stability for communities. Crime becomes prevalent from vast father absence in a community.
- Although perhaps well intended, excessive child support actually results in less support for mothers to help children. Communities lose out. Obviously, falling behind on child support makes it hard for the NCP father to participate in the work force.
- A related issue is that obligors that become incarcerated no longer have income to pay child support. Currently, there is no readily usable mechanism for incarcerated low-income NCPs to stop child support obligations when income ends due to incarceration. The federal government has recognized that it is in the child’s best interest that the incarcerated father has a shot at a second chance when released.
- Most states have job training programs in prison. But child support arrears stand in the way as authorities arrest obligors with arrearages—even as they walk out of prison, believing they have a chance to start over. But child support arrearages often keep that second chance from happening. Georgia now must address this issue.
- The federal government has studied these issues and now federal regulations require states to correct these adverse and excessive child support award formulas to preclude many of these adverse outcomes on individuals, children, and communities. Georgia now must address making sure child support awards do not push NCPs below the poverty level.