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Illinois and child support: When is 58 percent good enough?

Illinois has a bad reputation when it comes to collecting child support. The system has some very convenient aspects, but it also lets noncustodial parents get away without paying and without penalties for not paying. As a result, cases can languish with the state for years before any progress is made or before the children simply grow up and become ineligible for child support.

In 2012, the state Department of Healthcare and Family Services collected 59 percent of child support payments owed on its cases (not every case goes to the state). The good news is that that's an improvement over 2008's 55 percent. The bad news is that the state collected 59 percent of the amount owed; almost half of the money custodial parents rely on to feed, house and clothe their children is still unpaid.

State law tries to make paying child support as straightforward as possible. Noncustodial parents can have the money deducted from their paychecks and sent to the State Disbursement Unit. That department then forwards the money to the custodial parent.

The state's payment scheme is fairly simple: 20 percent of the noncustodial parent's salary is deducted for one child, and the amount increases for each additional child -- 28 percent for two, 32 percent for three, etc. The total deducted is capped at 65 percent, regardless of how many children the amount needs to cover.

The more complex the family relationships are, though, the more complicated the payment system gets to be. A father with multiple children by different women, for example, does not easily fit into the formula. Neither does a woman who has children by different fathers. These cases can confound state workers and may take months if not years to work through.

And, of course, the formula only determines what the noncustodial parent must pay. It does not force the parent to make those payments. That's a completely different challenge, one that we will explore in our next post.

Source: Chicago Tribune, "Child support challenges courts in Illinois," Lisa Black, Oct. 25, 2013

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