Child support – what is it, who pays, why it’s important

For every $1 spent on Minnesota’s child support program, $3.30 was collected in support of Minnesota children.

Every child needs financial and emotional support and has the right to that support from both parents. Even if parents don’t live together, they need to work together to support their child. Without the involvement of both parents, too many children may not get the chance they need and deserve to reach their full potential. The child support program helps parents build a financial relationship that benefits the child.

Child support serves important goals, first and foremost, by reducing poverty and financial insecurity among children and custodial parents. It reduces public spending on assistance by preventing single-parent families from entering the welfare system and helping them leave the system more quickly. Child support collection also positively affects family relationships and increases the involvement of noncustodial parents in children’s lives, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Minnesota’s child support program ranks in the top five nationally in collections of current, monthly support and overdue support. The mission of the child support system is to promote the well-being of children and self-sufficiencies of families by delivering quality child support services. An important goal is to help families work toward becoming and remaining self-sufficient, Minnesota’s Department of Human Services states.

Child support should be used for both basic necessities of the child, such as food, shelter, childcare and education, as well as additional things the child enjoyed during the marriage or parental relationship.

Child support collection at the local level in Wilkin County falls to Becci Thom, lead child support officer, and Amy Botz, child support officer. The two manage between 280-325 child support cases each year.

Thom, who has worked for the county for 25 years, said the numbers fluctuate each month, as cases are opened or closed, or shared with other states and tribes.

What is child support?

Child support is money a parent is court-ordered to pay to their child’s other parent or caregiver for the support of the child. The support can be part of an interim, temporary, permanent or modified court order in a divorce or legal separation, parentage action, order for protection, child custody action or separate child support action.

To receive child support, all of the following must apply:

• The person is the parent of a minor child or is the person who has court-ordered custody

• The minor child lives in the person’s household

• The child is financially dependent on that person

• One or both of the child’s parents are absent from the home

• A court has ordered a child’s parent to pay child support.

Last year, approximately 172,000 children who have a Minnesota child support case were born outside of marriage, and 100 percent of the cases had paternity established using a statewide measure.

The child support program in Minnesota served close to 245,000 children in fiscal year 2016 – of those, approximately 30,000 were on public assistance. Close to 88 percent of the state’s child support cases have a child support order in place, according to figures from the Minnesota Department of Human Services.

Collection and enforcement methods

Thom and Botz have a number of collection and enforcement resources at their disposal. The primary source of child support collection is income withholding.

“When someone is employed, we can send the court order to collect from their employer, it comes right out of their check,” she said. “We can do lump sums and we can collect on bonuses.”

During tax time, if there are arrears, Revenue Recapture – a state tax refund offset – and Project Intercept – a federal tax refund offset – can be utilized, she said.

Financial Institution Data Match (FIDM) levies can also be used to access an obligor’s finances to collect past-due support in cases where a child support arrearage equals or exceeds five times the monthly support obligation, the obligor has failed to make full payments required by a previously executed payment agreement, and where the arrearage have already been submitted for offset against federal or state tax refunds, according to the Minnesota Department of Revenue.

Other ways child support can be collected include:

• New hire reporting – each month last year, Minnesota employers reported an average of 227,694 newly hired staff, which provides information for child support location and enforcement efforts

• License suspension – 17,844 parents had their driver’s licenses suspended for failing to pay on a child support order in 2016

• Lottery winnings may be intercepted, denial of approval or renewal of passport, reports sent to credit bureaus, and the parents who don’t comply with child support orders can be subject to civil contempt proceedings or charged with nonsupport

Thom said Wilkin County is very flexible and tries to work with the parents. There are many reasons a person isn’t paying child support, some legitimate and some not – some are dealing with chemical dependency issues, some are in jail – and it can be a bad situation for everyone involved.

“If someone contacts me, tells me they’re down and out, and it takes them three months to get a job, if they follow up with me and keep me up to speed, and I talk to the custodial party, the three of us can usually work through anything,” she said. “We go with a proactive approach.”

In Wilkin County, the child support workers try to build relationships with the people involved.

“It’s easier to get them to do things, to comply and stay focused,” she said.

Minnesota has implemented a direct deposit for child support payments into custodial parents’ savings, checking or stored value accounts. Close to 94 percent of the collections disbursed were directly deposited into custodial parents’ accounts in fiscal year 2016.

Program funding

In Minnesota, child support expenditures totaled $179.9 million, with the federal government funding 68 percent, the state 8 percent and counties funding 24 percent.

The federal government provides funding in two ways – federal financial participation reimbursement on certain county and state program expenditures and funding based on meeting performance outcomes, which is passed on to the counties.

For every $1 spent on Minnesota’s child support program, $3.30 was collected in support of Minnesota children.

More information about Minnesota’s child support services may be found at https://mn.gov/dhs/people-we-serve/children-and-families/services/child-support/.

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