End to jail time for child support non-payers gains momentum

Legislation to end a court’s ability to send those who don’t pay Family Court-ordered support to jail may be getting a new push in the state Legislature.

Similar legislation was introduced in 2020 in the state Assembly but was never introduced in the state Senate. Now, Sen. Julia Salazar, D-Brooklyn, has introduced S.7387 in the Senate, where it was referred to the Rules Committee.

The proposal amends the Family Court Act to eliminate the court’s ability to send someone to jail or place someone on probation for violating a Family Court support order. Salazar wrote that sentencing people to jail when they don’t pay child support makes little sense because the incarcerated parent can’t earn money to pay support while they are in jail, while she said probation is also an “irrational” punishment for nonpayment because it can lead to jail.

“Beyond the financial costs borne by the custodial parent and child, and to the public for incarcerating the non-custodial parent, there are potential emotional costs for the child as well as for the friends and family of the non-custodial parent,” Salazar wrote in her legislative justification. “The Family Court Act provides for many methods aside from incarceration and probation for a court to secure compliance with a support order. This legislation would assure the court is using its many alternatives to incarceration and probation in order to obtain child support for families.”

Judges can also have their driver’s license or other professional and business licenses suspended for not paying court-ordered support, have bank accounts seized, passports revoked and tax refunds intercepted.

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.

Assemblyman Howard Epstein, D-New York City, sponsored the companion Assembly bill to Salazar’s legislation in 2020. He 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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