My writing doesn’t usually take a governmental/political slant, but I wanted to discuss the idea of child support, particularly from the federal viewpoint.
I’ve been bothered by something and am working on it, having had conversations with some U.S. Congressmen and Women about the issue.
Like most states, Tennessee’s laws concerning how much a person pays in child support are based on a formula. It has been determined how much it costs to raise a child and each parent is responsible for a percentage of that based on that parent’s percentage of both parents’ combined incomes.
As an example, I’m a public school teacher and my ex-wife works in the corporate world. Of our combined incomes, I make about a fourth of the number, so I’m responsible for about a fourth of the state-determined cost of raising our three children. Then there is an adjustment to the formula based on how many nights per year the child(ren) spend with each parent.
The formula is about as fair as you can get. And, I’m not griping about paying child support. As a father and a man, I have what I believe to be a God-mandated responsibility to take care of my children financially, physically, emotionally, and spiritually.
I love my kids and I’ve argued and fought for them, so the payment of child support is not at issue.
My issue is in how the federal government treats the payments – and parental responsibility – inconsistently and perhaps in a discriminatory manner. I’ll provide three direct examples.
VA Home Loans
One of the benefits of service in the military is the VA Home Loan program. This program for veterans secures or guarantees a portion of a mortgage through a lender. I used it to buy my current home.
A major part of the program is your ability to repay the loan. Naturally, they are looking at debt-to-income ratios. And that child support payment? It counts as debt when calculating how much a veteran can borrow on a VA loan.
I’m OK with that. Child support is a big payment, so it needs to count as debt. It can impact one’s ability to pay a mortgage. It will reduce how much you can borrow.
For the recipient parent however, depending on a few conditions, child support can count as income and aid in the purchase of a home.
A juxtaposition exists there. It hurts the payer, but benefits the recipient.
Child Tax Credit
The custodial parent gets 100 percent of the child tax credit. Period.
This in and of itself is the federal government telling me my financial support of my children is meaningless to the federal government. When more than one-fifth of my take home pay goes to child support, this is a tough nut to swallow.
What would be fair is that the child tax credit be based on the percentage of support each parent gives.
This would help and in this way the federal government, through federal tax codes, would recognize the non-custodial parent’s financial contribution to the financial support of their child.
A conversation with a staff member of U.S. Senator Marsha Blackburn (R-TN), indicates conversations on the Hill to this end have taken place.
When I applied for income-based student loan repayments for my federal government Stafford Loan, I was told only the custodial parent can benefit and that my support payments were discretionary spending.
I’m not sure what is discretionary there! You have a moral obligation to pay it. A judge orders it as part of the parenting plan. Failure to pay results in a variety of consequences ranging from nothing to jail time, loss of visitation and/or all parental rights to garnishment of wages.
Now, the truth is to use support payments to reduce student loan repayment plans, you don’t have to be the custodial parent. Rather you have to show that you provide half or more of the support to the child or children.
Yet, if you can’t prove that you provide more than half the support, your child support payments are considered discretionary and are not used to calculate expenses, lowering your payment.
Yet, the opposite is not true. The recipient does not have to claim child support as income when filing for income-based student loan repayments.
There needs to be a system. A way that court-ordered, mandatory child support payments are not counted as discretionary income when calculating student loan repayments.
The recipient benefits while the payer is left out in the cold.
Dependent care savings
This is a late addition.
Non-custodial parents may not use the dependent-care HSA accounts authorized by the federal government.
I guess as a teacher by day, there is no way I might need childcare during the summer to teach summer school, right?
Child support is important for a variety of reasons. In addition to the moral obligation, 29.2 percent of custodial mothers who are supposed to receive support for their children live below the poverty line, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. That’s dangerously close to one-third of all custodial mothers. Most of those do not receive full payments.
Also consider these facts from the U.S. Census Bureau, all dated 2018:
- 69% of custodial parents who were due child support received some payments.
- Less than half, 43.5%, received the full amount due.
- An estimated more than 3 million non-custodial parents are in arrears on child support payments.
One of the interesting things is that a person who is not paying their child support, might be able to pay SOMETHING if he (or she) received some tax benefit or some relief on student loans. Also, if the non-paying, non-custodial parent had a tax refund, it might give the state something to seize.
Finally, I think the benefit should be based on child support paid, not owed but unpaid.
And I don’t want any changes to hurt the custodial parent, but it is difficult to know the federal government does not value the child support of non-custodial parents.
Just a few thoughts.
I have addressed this issue with a few members of Congress.
Representative Jon Cooper (when I lived in his district): He expressed little interest in the tax side of the argument and did not address the student loan repayment side of the issue.
Senator Lamar Alexander: Did not respond to my letter. He sent a response but it was about mail-in voting rather than what I wrote his office about. Sadly it was not the first time this happened.
Senator Bob Corker (while still in office): Did not respond.
Representative Scott DesJarlais: Did not respond. Interestingly, follow up phone calls to his office, during business hours, were never answered.
Senator Marsha Blackburn: A staff member (actual staff member, not an intern) called and we discussed the issue for approximately 20 minutes.
President Joe Biden: Wrote on February 7, awaiting response as of April 19.
Senator Bill Hagerty (newly elected): Wrote on February 7, awaiting response as of April 19. On May 17 I received a response but it involved pandemic response and a criticism against President Joe Biden. It did not address my concern. Follow up calls to his office during business hours were not answered. I did eventually track down the email address for his Chief of Staff, Mr. Radner. He listened, and I had a meeting with his staff. They were unable to do anything.