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Can Billions in Back Child Support Be Recovered?


With the nation's divorce rate hovering around 50%, more and more Americans are learning firsthand the day-to-day struggles of splitting and trying to maintain a family. According to a recent article in the Chicago Daily Law Bulletin, unpaid child support may be one of the most pervasive problems associated with divorce in this country.

The Bulletin indicates that noncustodial parents across the country owe billions of dollars in unpaid child support, but are rarely pushed to fulfill legal requirements, as laid out by the divorce court.

But some experts in matrimonial law have apparently predicted that, as baby boomers retire and head toward old age, new lawsuits may crop up over financial assets that are unlocked by such significant life changes, including retirement plans and entire estates.

The prospect of such lawsuits is intriguing in some ways: the baby boomer generation has been called the "most divorced generation ever," and includes many noncustodial parents  who still owe child support for their adult children - many of whom are now parents themselves.

In Illinois alone, a recently-released list of "deadbeat parents" included 174 who owe more than $5,000 in child support payments; of them, 73 owe more than $50,000 and four owe more than $300,000. In a more widespread survey conducted on child support in 2005, the U.S. Census Bureau found that 85% of custodial mothers and 84% of custodial fathers were owed child support.

The survey evidently found that only 65% of child custody payments ordered by divorce courts were actually paid to parents with primary child custody.

The Bulletin offers a couple reasons for this dearth in compensation.

Child support orders are reportedly more difficult to enforce if the non-custodial parent opts to move to a state other than the one in which his ex-spouse lives and in which the divorce court issued the original order for child support.

With the complications involved in traveling to another state to collect money, chasing down an ex-spouse isn't an option for most custodial parents.

Second, hiring a divorce lawyer to work out the legal matters involved in getting a "deadbeat" parent to pay child support isn't always feasible - sometimes lawyer's fees are unmanageable to a parent still waiting for money from an ex-mate. And besides, child support cases are allegedly difficult to resolve and not always very successful.

The Bulletin estimates that at least half of unpaid child support problems are never brought to court because of the reasons above. But the author suggests that divorce lawyers could benefit parents, children, taxpayers and the state by stepping up to help those parents struggling because of missing child support funds.

In his article, the author advocates implementing a contingency-fee policy for child support cases - that is, allowing clients to pay lawyers only when they successfully track down a noncustodial parent and convince him/her to pay. This could potentially prevent single families from needing to rely on welfare programs provided by the state and therefore save everyone money.

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