Utah is seeing an increase in child support payments over the past year, a change state officials attribute in part to a new state law that denies hunting and fishing licenses to people who are significantly behind in payments.
“I actually got the idea for the bill from talking to some of my constituents who had non-custodial partners who were behind on child support and who went out and spent a lot of money chasing and to fish,” State Representative Karianne said. Lisonbee, who drafted and passed the bill enacting the new law two years ago. It came into force in 2021.
The law prohibits anyone from getting a hunting or fishing license if they are more than $2,500 in child support overdue for a year.
“A lot of people talk about sending people to jail or jail instantly when they hear ‘no child support collection, no child support payment’. But in reality, if they go to jail or in jail, they’re not working, so that doesn’t help solve the problem,” said Liesa Stockdale, director of the Utah Office of Recovery Services, whose agency handles child support in the state. .
“And when they go out…they have legal marks on their record that could prevent them from getting future employment. So that doesn’t help. And then there’s a stigma for the kids involved that their parent had to going to jail or jail. And it’s no use.”
In their conversations, Stockdale encouraged Lisonbee to think about “creative incentives” that are important for people who owe child support, but would not affect their ability to support their children.
“I think hunting and fishing is pretty popular in almost every state,” Lisonbee said.
Some states have adopted the policy, including Pennsylvania. Failure to pay child support for three months allows the state to suspend a driver’s license or professional license.
In Utah, data provided by Stockdale suggests that child support has increased since the law was put in place. On July 1, 2021, they blocked the hunting and fishing licenses of 2,959 people.
“Of those people, when we looked at it again, this year in the first week of July, 494 of those people had been in compliance at some point in that first year,” said she declared.
Stockdale acknowledged that the law may not be the only reason people have been catching up on child support.
“There’s really no way to say 100% that’s why these people were paying child support,” she said.
In this context, Stockdale reports an increase in payments of nearly $2 million per year after the new law took effect, specifically from those whose licenses were withheld.
Lisonbee has also worked with lawmakers to update the law this year to add flexibility to its application. One change she made was to allow people to still get licenses if they missed a month of payment due to a transition to a new job.
Ultimately, Stockdale thinks the Utah experience provides a lesson in how creative solutions can be used to change people’s behavior.
“It’s about finding the right incentive for your community, even for different parents within your community,” she said. “We have to keep being creative to find these little incentive niches that will speak to different parents and mean something to them.”
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