Are postcard reminders to pay child support an invasion of privacy, as one father charges — or a reasonable way to nudge parents to pay? (Photo: KWCH)
A father in Kansas is up in arms — not because the state makes him pay child support, but because of the postcards they send him reminding him of his obligation every month.
The postcards are an “invasion of privacy,” the dad, identified only as Scott, told Kansas TV station KWCH. Because they aren’t sealed like a letter, anyone who sees them can read them. “I was utterly shocked,” he said. “Not only shocked, but embarrassed that they would be sending these cards out as public knowledge. I live in a very small town, and it’s like, why don’t you just put a sign in my front yard saying, ‘Hey, here’s a noncustodial parent, and he’s paying child support.’
“I will never complain about support because I know that is a valid need,” added Scott. “I created those children, and I do want to be an active partner in their life. I know the amount that is due every month, it’s paid every month.”
The actual card sent by the state of Kansas to all parents mandated to pay child support, even if they always fulfill their obligations. (Photo: KWCH)
But a state official says the postcards, which have been going out to noncustodial parents who were mandated by courts to pay child support, pose no privacy threat.
“These postcards are fairly discrete, but they do make clear that the individual does owe child support, not for the purpose of shaming anyone” but for the purpose of reminding them, Theresa Freed, communication director for the Kansas Department of Children and Families, told KWCH.
“You ask any parents who have children in their home and are not getting their child-support payments, and they will tell you it is vital,” she said, adding that the information on the cards doesn’t note how much needs to be paid or other personal financial details.
While Scott and perhaps other recipients see the postcards as the state’s way of publicly shaming them, even though they’ve been lawful and responsible, the other side of the story is that the postcards just might work.
And that means states don’t have to use much heavier tactics — such as suspending a deadbeat parent’s driver’s license or intercepting his or her tax return — to collect the $28 billion in child support mandated by courts every year, according to the federal Office of Child Support Enforcement.
“Collecting child support is a huge problem, so anything that nudges a parent to pay what is owed is a good thing,” Jeffrey R. Esser, a family law attorney in Chicago, tells Yahoo Parenting.
That said it’s relatively easy to collect the money from reluctant-to-pay parents who have a steady job because the money is automatically taken out of their paycheck once an order for child support is issued, says Esser. But it’s harder if the person doesn’t have a steady job or is a contract worker.
If wages can’t be garnished from an nonpaying parent, the IRS will take it from the parent’s tax return, suspend their driver’s license or professional license, or even go after the parent’s assets, he adds.
“I would say that generally these moves work,” says Esser. But states would do well to come up with more out-of-the-box ways to remind parents of their obligations, so officials don’t have to use these methods.
“I see the point about the invasion of privacy,” says Esser. Still, he says it’s a small thing compared to the millions of kids who live below the poverty line because a noncustodial parent who is supposed to help support them does not do so.