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Child support non-payment bill introduced

Family Court judges could lose the ability to sentence a non-custodial parent to jail time for missing child support payments.

Legislation (A.11038) has been introduced in the state Assembly, sponsored by Assemblyman Harvey Epstein, D-New York City, to amend the state Family Court Act to eliminate the court’s ability to send a anyone to jail for violating a support order.

“If a non-custodial parent is sentenced to jail due to nonpayment of support, they may lose a job or be unable to seek employment, if they are out of work,” Epstein wrote in his legislative justification. “While it is important for both parents to emotionally and financially support their child, jailing a parent has negative consequences on both parent and child. The parent forgoes the child’s school and social events and the child misses the bonding relationship to their incarcerated parent. The relationship is forever altered, sometimes permanently damaged. People get sick or lose their jobs and thrown in jail for not paying their child support obligations, then debts add up while incarcerated and they are returned to jail so it can be a never-ending cycle.”

All 50 states have passed statutes criminalizing failure to pay child support, though some have decided to treat nonsupport as a civil matter – failure to obey a court order. Both can result in imprisonment, but the latter approach leaves the noncustodial parent without a criminal record.

Epstein said the state should refocus its efforts from sending parents to jail to employment programs. In 2005, Texas instituted a program that diverted parents from jail to employment training programs and, according to the Texas Center for Public Policy Priorities, collected $9 for every $1 spent.

New York state collected $1,718,403,812 in child support payments in 2018, according to the Federal Office of Child Support Enforcement, with roughly $7.2 billion in child support owed going unpaid. The state oversaw 794,956 child support cases in 2018.

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