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

An article in Chicago Parent recently caught our attention. The article is about collecting (and calculating) child support in Illinois, but it touches on the financial impact of divorce on women. With media coverage focusing so much on celebrities and politicians, it is all too easy to forget about the woman down the street whose husband has missed so many payments that she's now behind on rent and utility bills, in danger of being evicted.

It often happens this way. Typically, the custodial parent (usually the mom) earns less than the noncustodial parent. The divorce means a change in life style -- a few steps down, at times -- even with child support.

In Illinois, about 500,000 families have enlisted the state to help collect child support payments. The impact of the divorce added to the irregular or nonexistent payment of child support likely translates into thousands of children in the state falling into poverty.

The government does what it can to collect, but the system is not perfect. Statistics from the federal Office of Child Support Enforcement show that Illinois' noncustodial parents owe almost four times the amount the state was able to collect last year. In 2010, Illinois collected $800 million. The amount outstanding? $3 billion.

It is small comfort that Illinois isn't alone. Nationwide, 47 percent of parents who are owed child support receive the full amount.

Illinois is, however, unusual in one important way: how child support payments are calculated. This is one of a handful of states that use percentage guidelines, and we'll get into that in our next post.

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

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