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Unpaid child support holding steady - at $3 billion (concl.)

We've been talking about a recent report that gave some astonishing figures for back child support payments. This year, the total is about $3 billion. Last year, the total was about the same. The year before? About the same.

It's a dilemma for the families that are owed the money, and it's a dilemma for the Illinois Child Support Services Division. Non-custodial parents need to contact the court when they have a change in income. Child Support Services needs to decide if it's more important that current payments be made before they tackle the arrearages.

The problem can't be laid solely at the feet of the parents who haven't paid. The child support system has its own weaknesses, critics point out. Customer service at the Child Support Services Division is notoriously slow. Wait time is typically 20 minutes -- admittedly an improvement over the 45 minutes parents used to wait.

The support orders were also a frequent target for critics who said the system set payers up for failure. A child support services representative gave the example of a family on public assistance asking for a support order. For a 5-year-old child, the division would automatically ask the court to order payments going back the full 5 years. The division no longer does that, the representative said. They try not to start people out owing more than they can possibly pay.

The system isn't perfect, but all agree that a little more education could help. If parents who feel they cannot pay requested a modification from the court, fewer would be in arrears, more payments would be made as they were due, and fewer families would sink into poverty for lack of any support at all.

Source: Chicago Sun-Times, "$3 billion owed in child support," Francine Knowles, 03/28/11

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