NEW MEXICO (KRQE) – Across New Mexico, more than $200 million was owed in child support in fiscal year 2022. But the latest numbers from a new state report shows that more than 40% of that went uncollected.
After a divorce or split of custody in New Mexico, non-custodial parents may be required to pay a monthly sum to help raise their. In 2021, the state’s child support laws were updated with a formula for how much parents are required to pay. But the latest assessment from the state’s budget-focused Legislative Finance Committee (LFC) shows that around $95 million in owed child support went unpaid from July 2021 to July 2022.
“Child support collections totaled $130.3 million and did not meet the FY22 target of $145 million for the year,” the recent LFC report says. “The decrease in collections began in September 2021 when many non-custodial parents lost unemployment benefits, which were being collected as part of wage withholding payments.”
In 2021, state lawmakers passed Senate Bill 140, which aims to “right-size” child support payments with the goal of giving non-custodial parents a better chance at paying owed child support on time. Those changes were first put into practice in July 2021 and results are “showing promise,” according to the LFC’s analysis.
Still, the state agency charged with collecting child support reported relatively low compliance. The state’s Child Support Enforcement Division reports that only 52.4% of non-custodial parents paid child support in cases with support orders in fiscal year 2022. That number has hovered between about 51% and 56% over the last three years despite improvements to the state’s child support system, according to the LFC.
In February 2022, the department implemented a statewide modernization of the child support system. The department expected changes such as improved customer services, better collections, and increasing the consistency of payments to families to benefit those receiving child support, according to the LFC. In a recent presentation, the department showed data indicating that by focusing on setting new payment orders and modifying existing orders based on the person’s ability to pay, the department has been able to cut down on enforcement actions to try to collect child support.
Enforcement to try to collect child support can include sending a letter, suspending a driver’s license, intercepting tax refunds, or even asking a court to issue a bench warrant. But the Child Support Enforcement Division notes that their goal is “to encourage cooperation and compliance with court orders, not to punish non-custodial parents.”
Perhaps the most extreme enforcement, issuing a bench warrant for the non-paying parent, does not seem to be particularly effective, according to a 2017 study by the state’s Child Support Enforcement Division. They note that bench warrants can result in one-time payments, but most of the parents called in under bench warrants don’t keep up payments for more than six months.