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USDA urges states to consider custody agreements for benefits

The U.S. Department of Agriculture wants to help single parents in Wisconsin and other states get the assistance they need by encouraging states to use child support cooperation requirements as a helpful tool. The agency sent a memo to the director of each state's Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, to require custodial and non-custodial parents applying for benefits to submit details from their child support agreements as part of the process.

The reason for the recommendation to tie SNAP benefits to child support agreements is because a sizeable chunk of the 40 million Americans receiving such benefits are single parents with children under their care. Also, nearly 40% of children with a parent who doesn't live in the same home live in poverty, a figure much higher than what's seen with children in two-parent homes. Part of the reason for situations like this is a failure of some non-custodial parents to meet their child support payment obligations on a regular basis.

In 2015, less than half of custodial parents living in poverty had child support agreements. The purpose of the USDA's recommendation is to close the estimated $13.5 billion child support gap, which is the collective difference between what custodial parents are owed and what they actually receive from non-custodial parents. However, the memo does advise state agencies to allow for reasonable exemptions for instances when forcing a non-custodial parent to cooperate could possibly affect the child or custodial parent's well-being.

Another way that custodial parents can obtain the support payments they are entitled to is to pursue appropriate legal action. Before taking this step, a family law attorney may attempt to reach out to the non-custodial parent in an effort to work out acceptable payment arrangements. If unique circumstances apply that are affecting the ability to pay, a lawyer might recommend making appropriate adjustments to the existing child support agreement.

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