Here in the Garden State, New Jersey, where I live with my son – and have an open and active child-support case with his absent father who lives in Indiana — a class action lawsuit seeks to end the automatic suspensions of driver’s licenses of parents who are behind on child support payments. According to the law office of David Perry Davis, the family law attorney who filed the suit this spring, the class action is slowly making its way through the court system.
So how are New Jersey single parents reacting, while we wait for a verdict? Some are fuming: Karina P., from Totowa, says the only way she was able to collect child support was when her ex’s license was suspended. “He didn’t pay up until he couldn’t drive. This law should stand because it pissed him off into paying.”
Some single parents could care less. “I make more than my ex and can support our children and myself just fine. I filed for child support to make him feel responsible for the kids he left in the dust,” says Anne Marie G., from Summit. “He pays on and off and just enough not to get caught up with a warrant.”
Others feel conflicted. “I’m lucky, because my ex-husband takes paying child support seriously,” says Renee L., from Long Branch. “If he did fall behind and his license was suspended, I wonder how he’d drive to work,”
Will punishment really make them pay up?
All 50 states now have statutory or administrative provisions that restrict, suspend or revoke driver’s licenses for failure to pay child support. Each state’s criteria varies. But Renee has a point. Is this enforcement technique really effective? The current New Jersey law – automatic suspension, no allowances – can be a double-edged sword. “You are potentially taking away your ex’s ability to earn income,” says Kristi L. Terranova, a family law attorney with the Pashman Stein law firm in Hackensack. “This is especially true if your ex lives in an area without readily accessible public transportation.” No license could mean no job, thus no possibility of paying what’s owed.
But if New Jersey’s automatic suspension law ended, that doesn’t mean deadbeat exes would be totally off the hook. If the class action lawsuit succeeds, here’s how it would work: Once a parent fails to pay child support for six months, the court would step in. If the court felt the parent had not made a good faith effort to pay, it could suspend that person’s driver’s license immediately. But if the court felt the parent was delinquent because of circumstances beyond their control, it could extend the past-due payment schedule. And the extension can only last so long. “Any payment plan cannot extend beyond the date the dependent child reaches the age of 18,” Terranova explains. Ultimately, if the parent doesn’t pay, their license is history. The punishment aspect stays – the nonpaying parent just gets a chance to make excuses and explain how they’ll make good. “If there’s no punishment to face, the non-payment may continue indefinitely,” says Terranova. “Under New Jersey law, both parents have an obligation to support their child or children.”
I’m still on the fence. My son lives with me 24/7. If I lost my job and got jammed up money-wise, I would have to find a way to borrow to keep things going. I don’t get to hide out in another state or dodge child support payments. My son is under my roof and needs his cereal and clothes — and a birthday present for his friend’s pool party.
In other words, my financial responsibility is so much more real than it is for an absentee dad in Indiana who simply writes a check — or not. I can only imagine my ex doesn’t spare a penny when it comes to raising his other children. Automatic suspensions give single moms like me more leverage to make sure we get our children what they’re due.
But not cutting my ex any slack could backfire on me. My son’s father is self-employed and I know he needs his vehicle to drive to the corporations he sells industrial tools to. My child support isn’t garnished from his paycheck, because it’s not issued by someone else — he’s the boss. Child support, for us, is based on our tax returns and pay stubs. If my ex lost his right to drive, I imagine my child support would get kinked up, and fast. And I definitely wouldn’t want that.
What do you think: Should parents behind on child support lose their licenses? Tweet us @singlewith #childsupport
For more information on how to file for child support read this article I wrote for parenting.com.
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