There is one aspect of the Child Support Program that is barely discussed: child support debt. This issue is large in scale and complexity and mostly owed by people with little to no recorded income. Child Support debt is owed to the government or to the child's other parent, and in some cases to both.
People owe child support to the government because money is retained by the government to pay back public cash assistance (most commonly, TANF benefits) received by that parent's child. Overwhelmingly, it is low-income fathers, a very large percentage of them Black or Latino, who feel the greatest effects of this policy and the indebtedness that it creates.
The New York City Office of Child Support Services (OCSS) understands that debt from any source can have a negative effect on an individual's mental and physical health, but research suggests that it can also affect whole families. When that debt comes from unpaid child support, it can even undermine the primary goal of the program—getting children the financial support they need—by potentially discouraging employment among noncustodial parents and causing them to disengage from their children's lives.
Noncustodial parents who owe DSS child support arrears can improve their future, and their children's, by taking the necessary steps to lower their debt or to bring their child support order into line with their income. Many parents qualify for the programs described below but few take advantage of them. To date, OCSS has reduced over $225 million of debt owed to the government and what we have seen is that reducing debt leads to increased child support payments.
For noncustodial parents with debt owed to the child's other parent, free or low-cost mediation services can help both parents work out an agreement on whether they want to reduce the arrears and under what conditions.
If you have questions about any of these programs, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org with the program's name, for instance, "MOTS" or "Arrears Cap," in the email subject line.
In addition, the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) helps low- to moderate-income parents get a tax break on their federal tax return. The City offers free financial counseling through the Department of Consumer and Worker Protection. One-on-one professional counselors can help with managing money and minimizing debt.
Arrears Cap (English Application | Spanish Application) can put a limit on the amount of child support debt that a noncustodial parent owes to the government. The amount of arrears can be reduced to as low as $500. To qualify, noncustodial parents must owe child support debt to the NYC Department of Social Services (DSS). The parent's income must have been below the federal poverty level when their DSS arrears accumulated. Noncustodial parents can apply by mail.
The Arrears Credit Program (English Application | Spanish Application) is open to noncustodial parents who owe DSS child support arrears and do not have more than $3,000 in the bank or more than $5,000 in property. Parents can qualify for a yearly credit of up to $5,000 on their DSS debt. They can also take advantage of this program up to three years – for a credit of up to $15,000 on DSS debt for each eligible case. There are two ways to participate: 1) by paying the full amount of child support owed each month for one year, or 2) for those without a current order, by paying the full amount of the last child support order each month for one year toward the debt owed on the account. Noncustodial parents can apply by mail.
The new Parent Success Program is designed to help noncustodial parents by supporting their well-being and strengthening their ability to provide for their children. In the first phase of the program, parents can eliminate up to $10,000 in DSS child support debt by completing a qualifying substance use treatment program. The treatment program must be certified by the New York State Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Services (OASAS). Once parents have completed the course, they must submit a completion certificate or letter from their service provider to OCSS to qualify for the Parent Success Program's DSS debt reduction.
Pay It Off is a time-limited program that enables noncustodial parents to pay off New York City DSS child support debt twice as fast – by matching their payments that total a minimum required amount (up to the amount of DSS child support arrears they owe).
Modifying Orders Through Stipulation (MOTS) gives parents the opportunity to discuss modifying their order with an OCSS worker and to enter into an agreement voluntarily before an appearance in court. For a stipulated agreement: