April 9, 2020 by Linda Reutzel, National Parents Organization of Missouri and Ken Goins, Esq., Director, Protecting American Families
According to CNBC the Federal Government estimates that job losses could total 47 million and the unemployment rate could hit 32% because of the Covid 19 pandemic. Currently, the historical impact on the economy has had a drastic effect on the daily lives of most families.
Our society has a deep heart-felt empathetic understanding that many single-parent families are hit even harder by layoffs, hiring freezes, furloughs, reduction in hours etc. In response the government has said it’s going to send money to every adult earning less than $100,000. However, this monetary help will not be sent to the families of obligor-parents who are late on support payments. So in the middle of record unemployment which is a direct indication of needing help, our government will not provide the same help to the families of obligor-parents late in payments. This is stereotyped-bias, illogical and destructive to the children. This focus on punishing all obligor-parents hurts their children because that money will not get to the child[ren] thru either parent. See Eternal Verities in a time of Change by NPO’s Robert Franklin, JD.
When it comes to single-parent families where the parent is an obligor for support payments, our society has difficulty recognizing the hardship the loss of income has on that family. This is because of an offensive gender-based stereotype peddled by many that is based on an incorrect assumption that obligors are all potential absent deadbeats and not really part of the family.
Our message to obligor-parents is this:
- Once the obligor-parent has a loss in income the obligor should consider immediately filing a request for a downward modification with the administrative agency and a request in court. The Missouri Supreme Court has a website with fill-in-the-blank documents that those without attorneys can use to file for downward modifications in court. https://www.courts.mo.gov/page.jsp?id=38397 and for help with understanding the basic steps this webpage has information –https://www.courts.mo.gov/page.jsp?id=38396
- Also, every parent should complete a Missouri Form 14 that can be found on the internet to calculate your monthly obligation after the reduction in income.http://www.freeform14.com/ and/or http://form14.teamlex.com/
Our current laws incorrectly assume the obligor-parent has an ability to pay and does not require the agency/courts to order a downward modification when there is a loss/reduction in income. In fact, in Missouri our agency/regulations require:
- A notarized application that alleges at least a 50% reduction in income that exists for at least 3 MONTHS and will continue for at least another 6 MONTHS. So 49% is NOT enough.
- Even then, the agency is not required to seek a downward modification, but simply has the obligation to review and can refuse a downward modification request for any or no reason.
- The agency’s standard notice to obligor’s incorrectly states that it can refuse a request for a modification made for an order less than three years old and routinely denies modification requests simply because the order is less than 3 years old regardless of the obligor’s loss of income or (in)ability to pay.
- Our courts/agency place those on probation or enter into payment arrangements that require 1.5 times the original amount the obligor could not pay originally, without helping them obtain downward modifications.
The attorney for the agency, defended this practice saying that obligor-parents should have saved and anticipated the loss of income and their failure to anticipate the loss is an intentional failure to provide for their children. In the real world, most families live paycheck to paycheck so it’s quite difficult to save for a rainy day. Most obligor parents share custody so child support is more than just financial. But loss of job might force the obligor-parent to sell the family-car, family-refrigerator, family-stove and other family-necessities to meet the financial obligation to the children. This actually forces families of the obligor-parent who cannot afford the monthly payment to take out a loan to make the payment. So our courts are actually encouraging the use of payday loans! Finally, the courts/agency even assume that every obligor-parent is a finance expert who can predict the economy and layoffs and furloughs (and pandemics!). In fact, until last year all obligor-parents in Missouri were legally defined as absent.
In a federal court constitutional challenge to its suspension of licenses without assessing (in)ability to pay, the agency very clearly used the incorrect assumption(stereotype) in the first line of its defense:
Plaintiffs are noncustodial parents who have failed to financially support their children, as legally required.
Our courts/agency fail to acknowledge that every obligor-parent is not an absent selfish deadbeat. Our courts/agency fail to establish the ability to pay as the legal criteria for how much if any amount should be paid to the other parent when most parents are sharing custody. We all know a mother or father who are not meeting their responsibility, but when we begin to prejudge all parents and change our legal structure to reflect this bias, we are harming the families, especially the children.
Visiting the support-agency website, you clearly see how to file for services, but there is no easily locatable tab labeled “modifications”. Cases are established at the field offices throughout the state, but modifications are given less priority and only handled in the central office.
With a loss of income, you MUST get the monthly obligation lowered so you can pay it or else the balance will accrue and you will be treated as if you had the money and were simply too selfish to pay it. There are groups that provide basic free information on child support. You should reach out and visit them and if they charge a modest fee it is money well spent.
The bias against the families of obligor parents who fall on hard times is real and not warranted. Most parents love and want to raise their children. It is shameful that in this epic crisis our government officials would choose to ignore the suffering endured by the families of obligor-parents, especially their children.