Debunking the myths about child support. Idaho children received $212.9 million from parents in 2015.

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Mug shot of Alexandria T. Lewis

The overwhelming majority of parents say they would do anything for their kids and that they couldn’t conceive of abandoning them. Unfortunately many of those noble sentiments evaporate into thin air when the subject of child support is broached.

“Rarely does any parent like paying child support, even if it is to benefit their children,” said Alexandria T. Lewis, a family law attorney with Palmer Walsh & Taylor PLLC. “However, parents would be wise to remember they are dissolving a marriage and not divorcing their child. A parent’s continued emotional and financial support will help their child flourish. When a parent withholds child support or simply refuses to pay it becomes the equivalent of abandoning one’s child.”

Many parents wage lengthy legal battles over child support, some refusing to pay, while others hide assets so they can avoid paying their former spouse as much child support. Then there are the emotional scars children suffer as parents toss around ugly terms about their former spouse or significant other, such as “deadbeat dad” or “money-hungry mom.”

Lewis believes parents have legal and moral obligations to pay child support. She cautions that a parent who chooses to withhold court-ordered child support potentially faces severe sanctions, including jail, fines, the loss of a driver’s license and other penalties the court deems equitable.

“However, the worst penalty may be that someday the child will grow to adulthood and  come to learn  the non-paying parent’s dislike or resentment for their ex-spouse or ex-girl/boyfriend mattered more than helping their child,” Lewis said. “It is hard to imagine that any parent wants to engage in that conversation.”

Child support numbers in Idaho are staggering. Idaho Health and Welfare spokesman Tom Shanahan said about 1 in 4 Idaho children rely on Child Support Services.

“Last year the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare processed $212.9 million in child support payments from parents,” said Shanahan. “Sixty percent of parents have their child support payments taken directly from their paychecks.”

About 25% of the child support cases that have an order for current child support have not made a payment in the last year.  

Parents not paying child support in Idaho is very common.   

“Most parents want to be responsible for their children, however, some do not,” Shanahan said. “There are those who go to great lengths to avoid paying child support, which is frustrating.”

Many parents turn to the legal system for help. The state has the ability to get the money despite noncompliance, including wage garnishments and collecting income tax returns.

“We can suspend driver’s license, hunting licenses, and in rare cases we can put a hold on a passport,” said Shanahan. “We had one instance in which a parent was told they could not return to this country until they paid their child support. Child support was really strengthened in the late ‘90s when the federal government gave states tools to help collect child support from non-paying parents.”

Idaho can collect back child support up to 10 years after the child has emancipated, said Shanahan.  But that takes time and patience, said Lewis, who can recite the Idaho Child Support Guidelines (Guidelines) - which make determining child support fair, uniform and equitable - almost verbatim.

“The good news is that  attorneys can get things moving much faster and clear up the myths,” she said, and there are  many myths floating around regarding child support. People don’t realize what their children are entitled to when it comes to child support.”

With nearly a decade of working on child support cases, Lewis debunked some of the most common myths.

Myth No. 1

Joint custody does not mean 50/50 and, thus, NO child support has to be paid.

Joint custody is a frequently used term that is often misunderstood. There are two types of custody: Legal and physical custody. Most parents have joint legal custody, which means they share in making decisions about the major areas affecting their child, such as health, , education, and general welfare of their child  ,

Physical custody refers to actual parenting time so that the child has frequent contact with each parent but it does not necessarily mean that the child will spend equal time with each parent. Typically,  a child spends more time with the primary custodial parent, and weekends, some of summer and alternating holidays with the other parent. Because child support is based on the parents’ combined income, as well as time spent with each parent, one parent usually owes child support to the other parent, even if they have joint custody.

Myth No. 2

Only one parent owes child support.

By law each parent has an obligation to support their children. The Guidelines formula calculates the share each parent will need to pay for the support of their child. The child support check is the difference between the parent with the higher amount minus the amount owed by the parent with the lower amount along with other factors determined by the Guidelines, such as the amount of time the child spends with each parent, in Idaho this is determined by the number of overnights the child has with each parent.

Myth No. 3

Parents can agree that neither shall pay child support

The right to receive child support belongs to the child and not to the parent receiving the checks. Thus, parents generally cannot legally waive their right to receive or pay child support. Until the children are legal adults, the children must rely on their parents to enforce these rights to receive financial support. The Guidelines make some exceptions where both parents may waive child support but rarely will it be set at zero.

Myth No. 4

The paying parent determines how they will pay their support to the  recipient parent.

The recipient parent determines, by working with Idaho Child Support Receipting, how they would like to receive payment of the child support and  some of the terms may be further outlined in the parties’ court order. For a nominal fee, roughly $25, the recipient parent can request an enforcement action so  child support can be automatically withheld from the paying parent's income.

Myth No. 5

Child support will be reduced if a parent quits their job or chooses to work for a lower rate of pay.

When a parent voluntarily leaves their employment or purposely is terminated from a job to avoid paying child support or accepts a lower rate of pay/accepts different employment at a lower rate of pay, the court may determine that the parent is underemployed.

If this occurs, the court can impute income to the parent — which means the court can determine what a person should be making based on education, skills and experience and require the paying parent to come up with the difference.

Myth No. 6

If the primary parent will not let the other parent see the child, child support does not have to be paid.

Every parent has a legal duty to support their child. The duty to provide child support is ongoing and independent of  parenting time. If a parent prohibits visitation or reduces visitation, the injured parent should seek a motion for contempt of the court-ordered parenting plan; this is the proper remedy. Again, failure to pay child support primarily harms the child.

Myth No. 7

The parent who pays child support does not owe any other monies for the care of their child.

Child support covers a child’s basic necessities and possibly a few extras.  However, the paying parent must also contribute to the child’s uninsured health care costs, including medical co-pays and deductibles, dental costs, orthodontia, vision care, mental health treatment, counseling and other health services. In addition, if  parents have a young child who needs supervision during work hours, both parents must pay a percentage of the child’s day care expenses, which are determined by the  Guidelines. If a child has special needs then the court may also order additional support to ensure that child receives the necessary and proper care.

Understanding child support basics can enable a parent to make better decisions about their child’s welfare, employment, career choices, education, new relationships, , and possibly even their court case. It is important to hire a good attorney if the matter lands in litigation. There are many nuances to Idaho’s child support laws and the Guidelines. A good attorney can be the difference between paying more than required or receiving much less than your child needs.

For more information, call (208) 665-5778 or visit http://cdalawoffice.com/

 

By MARC STEWART

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