By Sara Pitcher
While the proposal to knock two years off of the child support was suggested for the purpose of making Indiana potentially eligible to receive additional federal funding, the proposed legislation would also be beneficial to divorced dads ordered to pay child support during those years.
When states try to lower the age of emancipation for child support, the hope is the number of court cases regarding non-payment of child support will be reduced, the number of people found in contempt of court for non-payment of child support will be reduced, and the number of people incarcerated for failure to pay child support will be reduced.
The reduction of cases and instances of incarceration is hoped to slightly reduce the burden on the court system and on the Department of Corrections, as well as increasing Indiana’s chances of receiving additional federal grant money.
Many instances of non-payment of child support occur after the child has reached the age of majority. Parents may mistakenly believe that they no longer have an obligation to support their child once the child reaches the age of majority or the parent may be struggling to make child support payments combined with paying his or her share of the child’s post secondary educational expenses.
Since the instances of non-payment increase after the child reaches the age of majority, the proposed bill would eliminate the obligation to support a child through the age of 21, hoping to reduce the cost to the state of dealing with the non-payment of support for children between the ages of 19 and 21 and obtain additional federal funding for Indiana through enhanced performance on the criteria established by the federal IV-D program.
Many parents are unaware of the obligation to continue to support their child after reaching the age of majority. If the parent discontinues support payments under the mistaken belief that they are no longer owed, his or her arrearage balance can be substantial by the time the mistake n belief is corrected.
At that point, it can be very difficult for the parent to pay off the arrearage balance while continuing to pay the parent’s portion of the child’s educational expenses. Instead of prosecuting parents for this mistaken belief, lawmakers are seeking to change child support laws to conform to the ideas many people have about the age of emancipation.
The proposed legislation would reduce the age through which a parent has a legal obligation to support his or her child, but parents may continue to provide their children with financial assistance at their own discretion. The assistance will be given directly to the child, however, instead of paid through the Indiana State Central Collections Agency.
Also, reducing the age for parent’s obligation to provide child support may allow parents to provide additional funds toward the child’s post secondary educational expenses, reducing the financial burden on the child, if feasible.
The proposed legislation would do nothing to eliminate or reduce the obligation of parents to pay educational expenses, if ordered by the court.
Currently, Indiana requires parents to pay child support up through the child reaching the age of 21 unless the child is emancipated through court proceedings prior to that age. Indiana is currently only one of three states with an emancipation age of 21. Examples of reasons a child could be emancipated prior to 21 would be that the child joined the military, got married, or the child is supporting him or herself and did not enroll in post secondary education in the past four months, etc.
Once a child is emancipated, the legal duty to support the child ceases. Prior to emancipation, however, a parent has a legal duty to support his or her child.
Failure to support one’s child can result in either a Class C or Class D felony, depending on their previous payment history. A conviction for non-support of a child can result in a jail sentence and or a fine.
Lowering the age of emancipation and reducing the amount of time that a parent is obligated to support a child reduces the overall child support obligation. If a parent is falling behind on their child support payments, reducing the overall obligation by two years will also reduce the potential overall child support arrearage balance.
If the parent’s arrearage balance reaches $15,000, that upgrades the offense of non-support of a child from a Class D to a Class C felony in Indiana. By reducing the overall child support obligation, the legislature hopes to reduce the overall number of cases of non-support of a child.