August is National Child Support Awareness Month. President Clinton began the month of recognition in 1995 as part of his welfare reform agenda. The goal was to improve the collection of child support payments by widening the use of sanctions including wage garnishment and suspending driver’s licenses and passports for parents with child support arrears. As of today in Pennsylvania, wage garnishment is virtually always utilized to ensure child support payments can be collected. Garnishments apply not only to the typical income which would be received from an employer, but also to social security and/or veterans benefits. Other methods of securing support payments include intercept of tax return refunds and even lottery winnings. Imprisonment is also a widely available sanction in the context of enforcement of child support obligations.
There has been backlash ever since President Clinton advocated for taking a tougher stance on non-paying parents. For one, the demands of child support are sometimes greater than the paying parent’s actual income. Or, support obligations pile up because the child support obligation does not automatically readjust to account for periods of disability, unemployment or incarceration of the paying parent. However, single parents do need the help of the other parent to provide a comfortable lifestyle for their child(ren). Seven states have joined in a pilot program that focuses on fostering financial stability for the paying parent so that they will be able to meet their support obligation without ending up destitute themselves. Hopefully, a balance can be struck between the seemingly competing interests of adequately providing for children as well as some financial reserve for the paying parent.