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Can the South Carolina Family Court System order low-income fathers into alternative sentencing programs for non-payment of child support?

The answer is, yes. Section 20-7-873 of the SC Domestic Relations Code states that the Court may direct a non-custodial parent who is unemployed or underemployed to participate in an employment training program or public service employment.

What alternative sentencing programs are available in the state for low-income fathers who are behind in the payment of child support?

A few detention centers offer work-release programs yet there are many limitations for persons who have been convicted for non-payment of child support.

The limitations include:

  • Work-release programs only work when the man has both a job and an employer willing to cooperate with the state work-release program.
  • Most low-income fathers, even if employed when convicted, do not have employers willing to complete all of the paperwork required for them to be allowed to participate in work-release.
  • If work hours or travel requirements conflict with work-release hours, then the man cannot participate.
  • Work-release does not eliminate over-crowding issues because the men must report back to the jail each evening.
  • In work-release, 100% of the paycheck is garnished to support the child identified in the support case; however, if the man has other children, which many do, they will not receive support during his period of incarceration.

Do low-income fathers need alternative sentencing programs to meet their child support obligations?

Absolutely. The current research on this topic is overwhelming. Here are just a few abstracts from recent research compiled by the Center on this topic:

  • The federal Office of Child Support Enforcement reports that of the more than 70 billion in child support debt nationally, 70% is owed by noncustodial parents who have no quarterly earnings or having annual earnings of less than $10,000. Only 4% of child support arrears are held by non-custodial parents with more than $40,000 in annual income. May, R. (2005, January). A Look at Arrests of Low-Income Fathers for Child Support Nonpayment. Center for Family Policy and Practice.
  • In conclusion, all of the analyses suggest that if they had the means to do so, fathers contributed to the support of their children. There is little evidence of "deadbeat dads" - fathers who choose not to support their children. Incarceration, unemployment, and lack of resources were the primary explanations for low levels of support. Gibson-Davis, C., Magnuson, K. (2005, December).
  • Explaining the Patterns of Child Support among Low-income Non-Custodial Fathers. Durham,NC: Duke University and University of Wisconsin.
  • By age 34, up to one-half of African-American men are fathers without custody of their children; and, an estimated 30% have been to prison. Strong evidence suggests that both of these factors discourage labor force participation. One of the key remedies is to increase employment assistance to low-income fathers. Edelman, P.; Holzer, H. & Offner, P. (2005). Reconnecting Disadvantaged Young Men.Washington, DC: Urban Institute Press.

Do low-income mothers and children benefit when alternative sentencing programs are made available for the fathers who owe them support?

Absolutely. When a low-income father is incarcerated, the mother and child have little hope of receiving financial support during the father's incarceration period.

While he is incarcerated the father's child support debt continues to accumulate which makes meeting child support obligations even more difficult once he is released. Other realities of incarceration include the loss of any key assets, such as apartment or vehicle, which the father may have acquired prior to incarceration. These will have to be replaced before he can re-enter the labor market. As a result poor mothers and children who rely on these men for financial support are less likely to receive consistent child support payments after an incarceration period.

Do taxpayers benefit when alternative sentencing programs are made available to unemployed or underemployed low-income fathers who owe child support?

Absolutely. The cost of incarceration per year is approximately $14,000.00. Compare this to the cost of providing an alternative to incarceration program for non-violent, low-income fathers which is approximately $2,800.00 per year. While participating in the fatherhood program, low-income fathers also receive critical services which further enhance the overall benefit of providing alternatives. Some of the primary program services include job placement and job retention services. As a result of these interventions low-income fathers are placed into livable wage employment enabling them to meet current child support obligations and pay for their own basic needs. Child support debt decreases during the father's participation in the program and mothers and children receive the financial support they desperately need. As the father's capacity to provide consistent support increases, reliance on state funding assistance for mothers and children decreases.

Alternative sentencing programs also help alleviate the serious issue of overcrowded detention centers throughout the state. The 2005 Department of Corrections (DOC) Report to the Legislature states that one of the most pressing challenges in the state is overcrowded detention centers. The DOC also notes that SC ranks 6th in the nation for its rate of incarceration.

Do any other states successfully provide alternative sentencing programs for low-income fathers who are behind in the payment of child support?

Yes, and with documented success. The Non-custodial Parent Employment Project (NCEP) is one of the country's largest and well established fatherhood programs. Created by the Florida legislature in 1995 as a $750,000 pilot project, NCEP is run by Gulf Coast Community Care, a non-profit organization focused on family support.

NCEP has generated more money than the program's cost. For every dollar spent on the program the state has recouped four dollars in child support payments from former participants. The drop in dependence upon social services is impressive: 73% fewer participants received food stamps after program completion and 24% fewer mothers were on welfare after their child's father was enrolled.