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Challenges in collecting child support arrearages

A Pennsylvania parent who tries to keep up with child support payments could fall behind for something as simple as lost work time related to seasonal conditions or health issues. For example, a construction worker might not be able to work during severe winter weather, which could result in a financial setback. As arrears add up, the situation can have an adverse effect on both the children for whom the support is paid and on the parent owing that support.

There are also situations in which a custodial parent might not want to collect child support because of the impact on public assistance benefits. In some cases, owed support is not paid, which can leave custodial parents lacking any resources to care for their children. These situations may require some innovative strategies to reduce the burden on both families and on the government.

A parent who falls into arrears can reach the point at which going back to work makes little sense. However, there have been some unique efforts to assist support-owing parents who participate in certain educational programs. A Maryland program, for example, allows parents completing a month of job training to have 10 percent of their child support debt dismissed. With participation in additional educational programs, another 15 percent of the outstanding debt can be forgiven. With consistent employment and child support payments for a year, a further reduction of 50 percent is made, which makes the remaining debt much more manageable.

A parent with a child support obligation that becomes unmanageable might want to avoid the accrual of arrears by promptly requesting a modification of the existing order with the help of an attorney. Issues that might warrant a change could include a medical emergency or an unexpected job loss.

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