47 percent of custodial parents who are owed child support
nationwide receive the full amount awarded.
Have base child support routed through the state disbursement
unit-this way all payments are recorded and there is an official
record of what has been paid and what has not been paid.
Periodically exchange W-2 statements to see whether or not a
person is entitled to a child support increase.
Make sure you are receiving a contribution toward half of the
child care. Almost every county in the state will give the
custodial parent a contribution toward child care.
A year ago you had a four-bedroom house and could think about
making a purchase without much angst. Now you and your kids are
dependent on food stamps and you aren't sure how you will pay your
rent. This isn't necessarily a result of the economy, but of
divorce and the havoc it causes for many women's finances.
Although states have many more tools in their arsenals to help
collect child support today, there are still too many ways for
fathers (or mothers, in some cases) to get out of paying the full
amount they owe.
Nancy Alves of Chicago has lived this experience firsthand.
A stay-at-home mom with a son, Alves soon realized Illinois'
Child Support Services were of little help. For one thing, her
ex-husband is self-employed. Although the courts awarded her child
support, collection has been much more difficult since his wages
cannot be deducted automatically from his paycheck. As a result,
Alves has fallen behind on her rent and wonders how she and her son
will get by.
The numbers tell a similar story.
According to the federal government's Office of Child Support
Enforcement, Illinois collected more than $800 million in 2010, a
slight rise over the previous year. But beneath this number is
another statistic: Illinois custodial parents are still owed almost
$3 billion (yes, billion) in back child support.
This affects many Illinois families. Nationally only 47 percent
of custodial parents who are owed child support receive the full
amount awarded, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. With a
caseload exceeding a half million families in this state, it is
likely that thousands of Illinois children are falling into poverty
in the wake of divorce.
Additionally, unless both parties to a divorce have equal
incomes, it is very likely the custodial parent (usually the mother
and in many cases the lower earner) will find their standard of
living diminished even with child support-and their kids will feel
Getting the correct award judgment
"Illinois is not typical in the way we compute child support,"
says Oak Brook family law attorney and mediator Margaret Bennett.
"We're one of seven or eight states using percentage guidelines.
The most important thing someone should do is to make sure they are
receiving child support based upon all of the non-custodial
parents' income-that includes bonuses and commissions."
In Illinois, the statutory guidelines start at 20 percent of net
income for one child, 28 percent for two, 32 percent for three and
up to a maximum of 50 percent for six or more children. But these
are only guidelines, cautions Chicago divorce and family law
attorney Jay A. Frank. Judges can deviate from these if they
choose, especially when the income is above $250,000.
But showing evidence of all income is not always clear cut. If a
spouse has regularly made money on cash side jobs, a court can
include that money, but only if there is evidence of that income,
such as on past years' tax returns, says Park Ridge attorney
Deborah J. FioRito, who concentrates in domestic relations and high
"It presumes you have a pretty upstanding husband," adds
There are additional pitfalls, FioRito says. What if the
custodial parent buys the other's share in the house under the
presumption that he or she will get child support to keep up the
mortgage, but then doesn't receive the child support?
Getting the money-in full and on time
The key to getting child support regularly and on time is having
an ex-spouse with W-2s.
More than two-thirds of the child support collected comes
through income withholding, according to the federal Office of
Child Support Enforcement. Without a method to automatically
collect, it is too easy for many non-custodial parents to pay none
or make only partial payments of child support.
Still, there are ways to get at least some of the money
One way is for the Illinois Child Support Enforcement Office to
intercept state and federal tax refund checks to help pay
delinquent child support. This method helped Alves get at least
some of the money she was owed from her self-employed
The state also can withhold unemployment benefits for child
support owed, as well as place liens on property and freeze
accounts if need be. They also have access to some additional
penalties for those who are delinquent beyond 90 days, including
suspension of driver's license, professional license, recreational
license or U.S. passport. If all else fails, the state also can
imprison a delinquent parent for up to six months with time off to
go to work.
Yet with all these sticks, a significant portion of child
support is still not being paid-some because the non-custodial
parent can't be found or claims to have no money, and others
because those seeking child support just give up out of
"The remedies-even those that are effective-take time," Frank
Navigating the system
Although the courts will consider contribution to legal fees as
part of the divorce settlement, this does not solve the problem of
paying the attorney's fees to begin the process.
If you are getting a divorce, you have to budget for moving out,
buying one person out of the house and purchasing professional
services, says Chicago family law attorney Audrey L. Gaynor.
She adds that clients who are not the primary earners often
think they don't have money, but they actually do if they have
their name on an investment account or life insurance policy. These
are assets that can be used to pay the initial fees to retain an
For those that do not have these kinds of assets, most attorneys
will take credit cards, and many people borrow money from friends
and family, she says.
Another option is to turn the case over to the Illinois Child
Support Enforcement Office.
Whatever option someone picks, seeking child support through
legal means isn't easy or cheap. But the other option-giving up and
not seeking child support-can have disastrous effects.
Jeanne Marie Dauray of Round Lake is an adult now, but as a
child suffered financially (as well as emotionally) from a deadbeat
dad. Although both her parents were professionals, the lack of
child support and loss of half the household income was "absolutely
life destroying," she says.
"We had no savings, didn't own a house and I had not finished
college" due to the financial hardship, she says. Eventually,
Dauray was able to complete her bachelor's degree, but only after
finally taking her father to court and winning a settlement.
Merry Mayer is a freelance writer living in
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