State Senator Kimberly A. Lightford’s legislation to assist parents who owe prior child support payments to the state has recently passed through the Illinois House of and Senate, and will soon make its way to the desk of Gov. Rod Blagojevich for his signature.

House Bill 4788 would allow low-income parents who are unable to pay child support a chance to adjust their payments to the state.

The Department of Healthcare and Family Services would oversee changes to support payments, and any compromises made between parents ordered to pay and the state.

The non-custodial parent would make regular payments in return for a “debt of forgiveness on previous child support payments, under the proposed law.

The new law, Lightford said, is for individuals who are unable to pay rather than unwilling.

“The motivation to pursue the passing of this bill was based on several conversations that I had with members of the Illinois Fatherhood Council and the Habilitative Systems Inc.,” said Sen. Lightford. “I got the opportunity to see what was on the minds of men who have had problems keeping up with their child support responsibilities because of incarceration or unemployment, and felt estranged from their children as a result.

“I wanted to make a way for these men to take care of their fatherly duties and also allow them a way to have a better chance to be a part of their children’s lives, which is often not the case when child support issues persist between the parents,” said Lightford.

Under the guidelines of the bill, a man behind in his child support can contact a caseworker from the child support enforcement office within the DHFS office, and have the case evaluated to determine whether he was indeed unable to pay to support his child during the time that his child support debt accumulated.

Reasons may include unemployment and incarceration. In prison, inmates are usually required to work, and earn an income, but their salary is generally too small to make a significant dent in their child support debt, Lightford pointed out.

On the insistence of some in the House opposed an earlier draft of the bill, some of the bill’s original language was changed before it was allowed to pass. The new language, in part, assures that the bill helps men who are truly faced with financial hardship and not simply unwilling to pay to support his child.

In the current version of the bill, it further stresses the importance of “establishing the circumstances under which such obligations may be compromised, with due regard for the payment ability of low-income obligors and the importance of encouraging payment of current child support obligations.”

When the father’s status during the period of non-payment is established, he must enroll into a money management program where his current income will be weighed to determine what fixed rate he will pay in child support thereafter, under the bill. The previous balance will be forgiven only if he pays this fixed amount every month and on time.

The House approved House Bill 4788 in February and in the Senate in March.