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Recession taking a toll on child support

A down economy and high jobless rates hurts ability to pay child support

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A down economy and an increased jobless rate is taking its toll on parents who pay child support. The recession is bad enough on the nation's workers who may lose their jobs. But for those workers who are also obligated to pay child support--something they may find themselves unable to do if they can't find work--the hardship extends to the custodial parent who may be desperately relying on that money to make ends meet.

An increasing number of workers, who have lost their jobs and are either unable to find new work at all or get jobs at a much lower rate of pay, are finding themselves having to go to court to get the amount of child support owed each month modified. For many of the parents owing child support, seeking a lesser amount is a desperate and last resort. But since the recession isn't showing any signs of being over just yet, many individuals feel they have no alternative.

A lower amount of child support is having a devastating effect on the custodial parent, who has relied on a certain amount to pay bills and pay for certain medical and child-related services, such as physicals, child care, or orthodontics. That parent may have already committed to a treatment (such as braces), and without the amount due coming in, may face a grim financial hardship in not being able to meet the obligations.

Family court judges are willing to amend payments for the jobless, especially when it is a parent who has typically paid child support in a timely and responsible manner. Typical recourse for child support non-payment has been to garnish wages or even jail the offender. But, when the individual responsible for making child care payments is out of work, there are no wages to garnish. And, jailing the offender simply means that much more time without a paycheck. The sour economy has truly created a child-rearing financial struggle for families who were already facing tough times before the recession.

Child care providers are seeing the effect of the economy, with parents pulling their child out of daycare when out of work. Sometimes, when they do find new jobs, they return, but may ask for part-time hours or negotiated fees. Some struggling families may use family members, neighbors or friends to watch their kids while they work to save money, but those arrangements are sometimes unreliable and can jeopardize the new job.

Parents who owe child support but are out of work or working reduced hours should not hesitate in contacting their local child support division, so that arrangements can be made. Simply not paying only makes things worse. At the same time, parents who are on the receiving end of child support payments may need a reality check on the current job market and finding work. It's not a desirable solution, but tough times may mean certain changes are inevitable. When things improve, the child support payments should be reflective of that as well.

Until then, families should:
  • Consider child care solutions that may fit better into a shrinking family budget. Not all child care options are the same, and services and weekly charges can vary greatly. Ask your current care provider if there is any financial flexibility. An example may be allowing your child to bring lunch from home instead of eating a prepared meal or opting out of add-ons that often occur with daycare operations. If a new arrangement cannot be worked out, consider moving from a preschool to a family care setting, going part-time and asking family to help out during the remaining hours, or look for a less expensive child care option that still provides safe and healthy services.

  • Consider whether extracurricular activities or lessons are essential. Your child may be a great baseball player, but a family in financial crisis may need to look at switching from a select team to a local recreational team for the season...or taking a season off until times are better.

  • Involve your children in financial decision making. Don't hide your financial hardships from your kids. Many kids are well aware of today's tough economic times and know there is a recession. Ask them for ideas on ways to reduce costs.

  • Avoid the blame game with a parent who is unable to pay child support like in the past. If there is a legitimate reason the parent is unable to pay support at this time, or has had the amount to be paid reduced, avoid turning that parent into the bad guy. Rather, your family will be stronger overall if you explain that it is tough finding a job right now, but once the parent does, extra support will return to the family.

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