Kansas’ new Child Support Evaders program functions as a “most wanted” of those behind on child-support payments. The names and faces of parents deemed the worst offenders have their faces and names posted online, complete with the amount they owe, their last known location and contact information.
It’s a solution for families, says Gov. Jeff Colyer. But look closer and the opposite is true – this program hurts, not helps, Kansas families.
This is detrimental to children and parents for many reasons. Most alarming is how misleading the program is. It’s presented as a way to collect money for children. The truth is much of the money collected does not go to the children.
Colyer said, “For countless families in Kansas, when both parents financially support their children, it means the difference between being in poverty and being independent from government assistance.” Unfortunately, in Kansas if a child receives benefits from certain federal programs, including Temporary Assistance for Needy Families and Medical Assistance (Health Wave or KanCare), the parent applying for benefits must assign their right to collect child support to the state.
In other words, every custodial parent struggling on welfare won’t get a dime of back child support collected because the Department for Children and Families keeps it. It sounds like a Catch-22 — they want to collect back child support to help parents on welfare, but they need to keep the money collected to help pay for parents on welfare.
Next, the state’s approach assumes that these parents aren’t paying by choice. But state courts are incentivized by federal payments to the states to set child support orders at levels the poor cannot pay. One recent study showed child support was the fourth-leading cause of homelessness among men in Kansas.
On the big-picture level, the effort misses the mark in terms of having a positive impact on the lives of children of divorced and separated parents and only further alienates wonderful parents who in an overwhelming number of instances have a great desire to be active in their children’s lives.
The governor’s office would be better served to focus on a greater need for children — protecting a child’s interest in shared parenting, where children spend as close to equal time as possible with both parents in the unfortunate instance of divorce. Kansas, like nearly half the nation’s states, recently considered a legislative bill aimed at making shared parenting more common.
Research shows that parents with equal time with their children are much more likely to comply with child support orders and, even more importantly, those same children end up living happier, healthier lives by having both parents involved with their upbringing.
Another negative aspect of the program: imagine going to school and being made fun of for being the kid of a “Child Support Evader.” Do we really want our children to be singled out and bullied because DCF wants to collect more funding?
Our state should be encouraging shared parenting, not embarrassing children and alienating poor parents for the sake of giving the government more money.
Will Mitchell is chair of National Parents Organization of Kansas, which promotes involvement of both parents in families.