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Is Illinois child support a zero-sum game, or do some just get zero? p3

This is not a new topic for us. For the last couple of posts, and in many past posts, we have discussed the challenges surrounding child support payments. For the custodial parent, a few missed payments can spell true financial hardship. For some non-custodial parents, the will may be there, but the means just aren't -- next thing you know, that parent is in jail on contempt charges.

As we said last time, Illinois is one of a handful of states that determines child support payments using the calculation system. The system calls for a non-custodial parent to pay a certain percent of his or her income for child support. It's not as straightforward as it sounds, though.

Custodial parents must look carefully at their exes' income; it's easy to forget bonuses and commissions. The question of cash payments is also tricky. Cash earnings from freelance home improvement work, for example, must be documented (on a tax return, for example) to be included in the support calculation.

Family law professionals say the system works best when the noncustodial parent has W-2s. If payments fall behind, the state can garnish wages -- even unemployment compensation. Federal statistics show that fully two-thirds of child support is collected through income withholding, so it's not as drastic a move as it sounds.

The catch is that self-employed people don't have W-2s. The government can get around this by garnishing federal and state tax refunds or putting a lien on property. The government, being the government, can also freeze the non-custodial parent's bank accounts.

Parents who are more than 90 days behind on child support may face suspension of their driver's licenses, professional licenses, and, in extreme cases, U.S. passports. And, of course, there's always jail.

The system is tricky, and all the steps and forms and different departments involved can be overwhelming to parents who are already stressed out. The best idea in most cases, then, is to consult with a family law professional.

Source: ChicagoParent.com, "Child support - a lifeline for all?" Merry Mayer, Oct. 28, 2011

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