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How child support agreements are enforced

Almost four decades ago, the federal Child Support Enforcement Program was created. The intention of the program was to ensure that a child received financial support from both parents. However, while the program is more successful than in the past in terms of getting a greater amount of assistance for more people in the program, a study has found that fewer people have legal child support agreements. Only 49 percent of eligible custodial parents had one in 2014. In 2004, 60 percent of eligible parents had one. Some Illinois parents may be among those who do not have agreements.

This can create problems for children in low-income families. Single unmarried parents struggling alone to cover expenses and raise their children are under more stress, and this has been linked to poor outcomes for children. Higher incomes give children greater access to resources. A child whose parent receives child support may also have a better relationship with the parent paying the support.

The federal program may need to be revamped to encourage more participation. Child support payments are also correlated with children having fewer behavioral problems and better cognitive abilities.

When parents divorce, they need to work out custody and child support. Parents might want to explore shared custody in which the child spends about half their time at each parent's house, and in this case, neither parent may pay child support. However, in other cases, one parent may have physical custody and might get support from the other parent. If the other parent stops paying, the custodial parent is not permitted to interfere with visitation. However, if a formal support agreement is in place, the parent may be able to go through legal channels to compel that parent to pay. The parent's wages could be garnished, or other steps might be taken.

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