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Unpaid child support holding steady - at $3 billion

A recent report showed that non-custodial parents in Illinois owe $3 billion in back child support, about the same amount owed last year and the year before. With the state currently collecting around 58 percent of support payments, child advocates say the picture isn't likely to get better.

Some advocates believe the arrearages will never be collected -- not just in Illinois, but across the U.S. A 2007 report from the Urban Institute estimated that 40 percent of the back payments owed in 2003-04 would probably be collected over the next 10 years.

The reasons these parents aren't paying aren't all that surprising. The recession took a tremendous toll, leaving people unemployed or under-employed. State child support officials say that, among their clients, 57 percent of non-custodial parents have no reported income; 28 percent make less than $30,000 a year.

What many of these parents don't realize is that they can ask the court to lower the support payments. Instead, they pay a little, get behind and give up. When they find a job again, they're so far in arrears they figure they'll never catch up, so why bother? A representative of the state's Child Support Services Division believes that just getting these parents back into the system and making current payments as they're due would be a major improvement.

Many parents do ask for a modification of the support order -- more and more, in fact, as the years go by. In 2006, more than 4,000 requests for review were filed. By 2010, the number had climbed past 12,000.

We'll talk more about the problems with the system in our next post.

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

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