CLASP: Private Child Support Collectors ‘Exploit the Financial Vulnerability of Parents, Often Leaving Both Parents Worse Off’

“The company continues to harass the parent even when non-custodial parents say they do not owe the money, and provide documentation (such as a zero-balance account statement from the state child support agency, adoption papers, or cancelled checks).

“Even though the company knows they do not owe the money, it continues to pursue them, and will not respond to calls or letters.

The Center for Law and Social Policy (CLASP) is a national nonprofit that works to improve the lives of low-income people. CLASP”s mission is to improve the economic security, educational and workforce prospects, and family stability of low-income parents, children, and youth and to secure equal justice for all.

CLASP Senior Staff Attorney Vicki Turetsky recently issued a devastating critique of private child support collection companies, such as Jim Durham’s National Child Support Center, which is featured in Lifetime’s Deadbeat Dads. Fathers & Families led a successful campaign to drive the Show off of Fox last year, and has protested Lifetime’s plans to air it.

According to Turetsky’s report Private Child Support Collection Companies:

The industry is dominated by companies that sometimes exploit the financial vulnerability and personal frustrations of parents, often leaving both parents worse off.  Their practices are divisive and profoundly anti-family.

These practices can financially and emotionally devastate mothers and fathers, worsen already fragile family relationships, increase the risk of domestic violence, strip away income and financial good standing, subject non-custodial parents to fraudulent collection efforts, and undermine the credibility of legitimate child support enforcement efforts.  These practices are not permitted to be used by state child support programs or private attorneys, and would be illegal if used by consumer debt collection companies.

According to a March 2002 U.S. General Accounting Office report…the private companies have not demonstrated that they do any better on collecting support than state child support agencies.  As a result of significant state improvements over the last few years, states have a higher collection rate than the private collection companies nationwide. The GAO found that the main edge held by private companies in enforcing support is that the companies pressure relatives to pay the support owed by non-custodial parents, and use collection tactics that are prohibited to state child support agencies, private attorneys, and private collection agencies that pursue consumer debt…

The growth of this unregulated industry undercuts basic social policies promoted by the public child support program, and threatens to unravel major reforms underway within the program–including improving performance and interstate coordination, reorienting the program from welfare cost recovery to family support, implementing realistic strategies to deal with debt, helping parents participate in the formal economy, and helping parents stay connected to their children.

Several media stories have highlighted the abusive and deceptive practices used by some of the private collection companies over the years, including Time Magazine, Smart Money Magazine, Children”s Voice, New York Times, New York Daily News, Washington Post, Chicago Tribune, Cleveland Plain Dealer, Gannett News Service, CNN, Fox News, Minnesota Public Radio”s Marketplace, and CBS Market Watch.

Read our first excerpts from CLASP’s report here and here or the full report here. To join our campaign, click here.

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