About 8.5 million families in the United States are headed by single mothers, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Another 2.5 million families are headed by single fathers. Many of these single parents are entitled to some form of child support from the other parent, but that doesn’t mean everyone receives it. Many don’t even try to collect it. That’s in part to some pernicious child support myths that won’t seem to go away. Here are three myths that many people believe about child support.
1. Only Greedy Parents Get Courts Involved
You may hear that anyone who goes to court seeking child support is actually greedy and concerned with revenge rather than the best interests of the parents. After all, if child support is really necessary, why can’t two people just work out payments between themselves? An informal arrangement may seem like it’s more common, but it’s actually not. About 88 percent of child support agreements are formalized through a court or similar setting.
Having a written agreement can protect both sides. In an informal agreement, one parent may decide to give $250 in support one week and only $100 the next week. Or they may decide to go months without paying. That kind of unpredictability can really mess up the other parent’s budget.
The child also deserves as much stability as possible. Sure, money is far from the only way to show you care about a child, but a financial commitment from each parent shows that they’re in it for the long haul. Mom and Dad aren’t romantic partners anymore, but they still know how to co-parent amicably. And yes, you can be amicable while still going to court. A peaceful breakup is much better for a child than a volatile relationship that’s technically still intact.
2. Child Support Payments Never Change
Once you sign up for child support agreements, then that’s the number you’ll be forced to pay until your child is in college, right? That’s not right. If your financial circumstances change, you can go to a child support attorney and ask them to file for a modification in the amount of support you pay each month.
But the change must be a legitimate one that you had little to no control over. For instance, some parents will try to only take jobs that allow them to get paid under the table. They think that if there’s no record of them having an income, then the other parent can’t collect any kind of child support. That may work occasionally, but most family court judges know a scam when they see it.
If you’re earning less than you’re capable of as a way of sticking it to your ex, then yes, it can be harder to get your child support modified. But if you get laid off and have to accept a job that only pays half as much as your old one, then it’s much more likely that you’ll get your obligations reduced as well. Courts want to work with parents, at least as long as those parents are acting in good faith.
3. There’s No Way to Enforce Child Support
If the other parent isn’t paying off, that’s unfortunate. But that doesn’t mean the other parent just has to sit there and deal with it. Child enforcement varies from state to state, but it’s almost always worth attempting to collect rather than just shrugging and saying, “Nevermind; we’ll just eat less this month.”
Some states will take away driver’s licenses or other certifications if a parent doesn’t pay up, and the stick model can work sometimes. But states like Maryland are trying a carrot method. That means they’ll allow parents to take job training classes and have some of the debt forgiven. That gives parents a better chance of being able to pay for their child’s needs in the future.