THE BLOG
03/07/2012 01:34 pm ET Updated May 07, 2012

Deadbeat Dads and Child Support Woes

Can't believe I'm about to come down in favor of deadbeat dads, but here we go.

"Devon" (not his real name, since I'm making this story up) cut and run, leaving his ex-wife with a son. She went to court, Devon didn't show up, and she got a court order that Devon should pay $775 per month in child support until their son turned 18. Devon sent money once in a while when he had some, but he didn't have much education, or motivation, and drank too much. By the time his son turned 18, Devon owed $38,000 in back child support, much of it interest.

The state of New York meanwhile paid welfare to Devon's ex-wife and son. Since Devon's son is over 18 now, Devon doesn't owe his son money anymore. But now he owes the $38,000 (with interest continuing to accrue) to New York, to pay the state back for the welfare it paid to his son.

Devon, meanwhile, got hit by a truck and suffered debilitating back injuries, so now he really can't work, and his only income is federal government checks of $750 per month. The law says that the state of New York can garnish 65 percent of federal benefits, which leaves $262.20 per month for Devon. Every month he gets a check from the U.S. Treasury for $262.20. He goes to a check-cashing place, pays them $15, and winds up with $247.20.

Pretty bleak. But it's about to get worse, because the Treasury has decided it's going to save $0.90 per check by refusing to send paper checks, and doing only electronic deposits. And while states can only garnish 65 percent of federal benefits, they can garnish 100 percent of a bank account. So Devon's never going to see any of his federal benefits.

It's difficult to have too much sympathy for Devon. Our thoughts can naturally go to "he shouldn't have abandoned his son." And "he's leaching off the system, now he'll just be leaching a little less. Good!"

But here's the catch -- do we really want collection efforts to be so thorough that they force poor people onto the streets? The rule will just be one more detail tending to make it literally impossible for poor people to support themselves.

According to the Associated Press, among those who owe $30,000 or more in child support, 75 percent have reported income of $10,000 per year or less. So we've got a system that's pretending to give them federal benefits, but really 65 percent of those benefits have been going elsewhere, and it's about to become 100 percent.

Statute of Limitations, anyone? Nope. Not for child support.