Child Support and Payroll—It Works!
A question I am often asked when I do child support webinars is “why?” Why is payroll responsible for collecting child support? Just how and where did the withholding of money for a citizen’s responsibilities to their child come within the purview of payroll?
It all boils down to what is known as the common good. When child support is paid by the noncustodial parent, it ensures that the burden will not fall upon the taxpayers. Before payroll became involved heavily in the collection of child support, the collection numbers were abysmal and the care and welfare of the children became the responsibility of the state governments through reimbursements from the federal government.
The federal government actually started legislating child support enforcement a little over a hundred years ago, in 1910 with the Uniform Desertion and Non-Support Act. This act required that a husband who willfully abandoned or failed to provide support for his children was guilty of a crime. But the law wasn’t universally enforced and all the parent had to do was to escape to another jurisdiction and the problem was solved—for the parent anyway. Collection was nonexistent.
When social security was passed in 1938, the act included establishing a program called Aid for Dependent Children which gave a subsistence payment for families with absent parents. To alleviate the cost of this program from the federal government side, in 1950 the Uniform Reciprocal Enforcement of Support Act (URESA) and the Social Security Act (SSA) Amendment were passed. URESA was enacted in all 50 states and provided a means for the custodial parent to request support across state lines where the noncustodial parent lived. But payroll is still really not involved and the collection rate is not high. The amendment to SSA required the state welfare agencies notify law enforcement when aid was provided so the local officials could locate the noncustodial parent which very rarely happened.
Then in 1974-1975, in response to the call to reduce the cost of the public expenditures for what is now known as welfare, Title IV-D of the Social Security Act was established which created the child support program. The program was originally designed to establish and enforce child support orders for families that were on welfare in order to recover public aid paid to those families. Every state was required to set up a child support enforcement program. But still, collections are low and no way is seen to increase them without increasing costs of the program.
Then, in 1988, payroll truly began to be in the middle of child support collections. The Family Support Act finally allows states to garnish wages for the sole purpose of collecting child support and requires all states to maintain clearly defined child support guidelines. I can remember receiving letters from different agencies such as the District Attorney’s Office of Los Angeles informing employers that their child support withholding will be increasing dramatically with this new law and indeed it did.
Finally, with The Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliations Act of 1996 (PRWORA) our current program is in effect and child support is mainly collected through the garnishment of wages. At last count, over 67% of all child support is collected through the payroll. So why is payroll involved in child support withholding? For the common good.