Missouri May Have Child Support Enforcement Courts


Missouri—A specialized court may be the next step for child-support battles in Missouri, as the state debates a new approach to this growing problem.

Specialized courts which deal with drug offenders has worked thus far, if some Missourians get their way, child support courts won’t be far behind. These courts, which work to rehabilitate offenders rather than simply lock them up, are a nationwide trend.

“What we want to do is reconnect the fathers with their children and urge them to pay their support obligation properly,” House sponsor Tim Jones, a state representative from Eureka, told colleagues during floor debate on the child-support court bill, SCS SB 140.

Jones says that the current system is clearly not working, so trying something new may be the answer. He said that a father cannot pay child support if he is thrown in prison, and once he becomes a convicted felon, even after his release from prison he will have an even harder time obtaining a job, which will then render him unable to financially support his children.

Representative Michael Frame, D-Eureka, supported Jones by telling him that even when parents win custody of their children, they lose out if their former spouse is jailed for non-payment of child support.

“They sure can’t pay while they are in jail and once they come out they will be limited in paying,” Frame said.

Jones compared the current court system to a new version of debtor’s prison, since the initial debt can only accumulate when the spouse is in jail and has no financial means, or hope of earning money, with which to pay the debt back.

The new experiment of specialized child custody courts would allow circuit courts in Missouri to set them up. Parents who are unable to meet child support payments altogether, or fall behind, can be referred by the court to attend education, drug treatment, or job training. Once the class(es) are completed and the child support payments are being paid on time, the charges that were filed could be dropped.

The state, if this new plan is implemented, is expected to save approximately $1.5 million by keeping those men out of prison and getting them to pay child support.

The new bill was passed by the Missouri State Senate, and now goes to the governor.


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