Child (don’t) Care

Tackling unpaid child support in Latin America. 

The issue of unpaid child support poses a significant challenge across Latin America, impacting thousands of families and children and exacerbating financial distress, especially in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. Even before the pandemic the situation was dire, with only about 40% of entitled beneficiaries receiving their due maintenance pension. In countries like Argentina, Mexico and Chile, the percentage of children not receiving their maintenance pensions was alarmingly high, highlighting the widespread nature of the problem. 

Governments across the region have implemented various policies to address this issue, albeit with mixed success. Some countries, such as Brazil and Uruguay, have adopted stringent measures, including imprisonment for non-compliant individuals. In Argentina, Chile, Colombia and Mexico, “non-compliance with child support payments is understood as a type of domestic violence and the National Register of Defaulting Debtors was created,” informed a magistrate of the family court judiciary. “The creation of registers of fathers who fail to pay child support has highlighted the magnitude of the problem, the figures show that in more than 90% of cases, it is men who repeatedly fail to comply,” corroborated a litigation lawyer and international professor. 

Additionally, proactive measures have been taken to ensure child support payments through direct government intervention. For instance, the Chilean Tax Service has been authorised to withhold annual tax refunds from those who owe child support and transfer them to entitled beneficiaries. Similarly, in Brazil, legislative discussions are underway to mandate employers to withhold a portion of employees’ salaries for child support payments and “in Colombia, there are salary reductions of up to 50%,” cited the litigation lawyer.  

“The current reform envisages the creation of a national register of maintenance obligations from which proof of non-payment could be issued and which could be required for various governmental procedures from the issuance of passports to marriage licences.” The family court magistrate elaborated, “these measures could be much more effective because no human personnel would be required to apply the sanction, but rather computerised systems would alert and deny the procedures requested by a debtor.” 

“computerised systems would alert and deny the procedures requested by a debtor.”

Magistrate of the family court judiciary, LatAm

Unfortunately, “there may be difficulties when it comes to effective implementation, if the law on accountability, which contains these provisions, is approved, mainly due to the high congestion that the judicial apparatus currently has and the lack of resources,” confided the litigation lawyer. Locating debtors can be complicated, particularly when they provide false information or frequently change jobs and addresses to evade payment.

Legal and bureaucratic obstacles further complicate enforcement efforts, especially for claimants without adequate legal representation. Moreover, there may be social stigma associated with seeking child support, causing another “underlying problem, which is the low demand for alimony from divorced mothers,” confirmed the magistrate. 

Regional experiences offer valuable insights into effective practices for compelling debtors to fulfil their obligations. Inter-institutional collaboration between financial institutions, telecommunication companies and government agencies is also crucial for linking pension payments to social security systems and overcoming localisation challenges.

“At the international level, some progress has been made with regard to the recovery of debtors living abroad and this issue has been strengthened by the adoption by several countries of the Inter-American Convention on Maintenance Obligations, which has been ratified by countries such as Guatemala, Paraguay, Brazil, Belize, Bolivia, Panama, Ecuador, Costa Rica, Uruguay, Argentina and Peru,” attested the international professor. What is being increasingly implemented are immigration restrictions for parents who owe child maintenance, and this adds up in the context of international support.  

What is being increasingly implemented are immigration restrictions for parents who owe child maintenance, and this adds up in the context of international support.

Litigation lawyer with expertise in family law, LatAm

“Despite the most recent mechanism created by law in 2021, the current lack of operability and its precarious functioning, it is believed that in the medium and long term it will generate efficient results,” revealed the lawyer. Therefore, addressing the issue of unpaid child support in the short term for Latin America requires a comprehensive and multifaceted approach involving policy interventions, technological innovations and legislative reforms.

By leveraging regional experiences and adopting effective practices, governments can ensure that children receive the support they are entitled to, thereby alleviating financial hardships and promoting their well-being. Colombia sets quite an example, already locking-up a tidy 140 child-support dodgers to date. Clink.

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