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County uses new methods to get ‘deadbeat’ parents back on track

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By Sharon Graves

By SHARON GRAVES

The News-Democrat

Behind on your child support payments? Then you might expect any of the following to occur soon: There may be a Denver “boot” placed on your car, making it inoperable until you pay up; you may be refused a drink at your favorite bar; or your hunting or fishing license may be revoked.

These are some of the civil actions Assistant County Attorney Nick Marsh said are at his disposal, and available to the Carrollton Child Support office, to encourage Carroll County residents paying child support to stay up to date with their payments.

“We can put liens on homes, vehicles, RVs, and boats,” Marsh said. “We can revoke your drivers license, your [commercial drivers license], your occupational license, your hunting and fishing licenses.”

Marsh said his office also can  notify all the bars in the area and tell them not to serve someone who is delinquent on payments any alcoholic beverages.

“If you’ve got money to drink, you’ve got money to pay your child support,” he said. “We can take away all your fun.”

Of course, the more traditional means of ensuring payments are made still exist.

“We do garnishments against disability, SSI [Social Security Insurance] payments and unemployment [benefits],” said Crystal Montgomery, a child support case worker in Carroll County.

Marsh said his office also has confiscated some federal tax refunds, also known as the economic stimulus checks, because they were behind on child support payments.

Collections below average

Carroll County ranks 71st out of 120 counties in collection of child support, according to records supplied by Steve Veno, deputy commissioner of the Department for Income Support, Child Support Enforcement.

This means Carroll County is below average in collection of payments, statewide, with one in four parents assigned to pay child support in arrears.

Regionally, Owen County ranks 12th; Gallatin County, 54th; Henry County, 80th; and Trimble County, 114th.

Some of these so-called “deadbeat parents” actually believe that if they can’t be found, no one can make them pay, Marsh said. But, that’s far from reality.

“We have a litany of computer programs at our disposal, and we have access to certain databases that other people may not even have access to,” all of which can help track down people who are behind on their payments. Marsh said.

“We can find people other agencies can’t,” he said. “Part of our agreement with the state and federal government is that we can’t grant any other agency access to the databases that we have. We can’t even let the police use our databases.”

With these programs, “we can pull up car registrations, drivers licenses, SSI benefits [records], unemployment benefits [records] and others,” said Vickie Culver, also a child support case worker in Carroll County.

“Whenever any company has a new hire, they have to report that into the system,” Marsh said. “We have access to that database.”

More methods considered

to track down ‘deadbeats’

Veno is behind the push to use more creative ways find deadbeat parents and collect money they owe to their families.

“We are considering matching cell phone and utility bill records. We are watching Virginia in their efforts along these lines. They are having a 60 percent matching rate, and we are anticipating the same success rates,” Veno said. “A side benefit of using the cell phone and utility bill records is they usually collect employer information.”

With that information, the state can garnish a person’s wages.

As child-support case workers, Culver, a 15-year veteran, and Montgomery, a 10-year veteran, are under the umbrella of the County Attorney’s office. They are responsible for 2,000 cases between them.

“I have seen some of my little kids grow up and go to college,” Culver said, referring to the hundreds of children she has helped over the years. “I have a lot of stories, and a lot of happiness.”

Avoiding ‘double jeopardy’

Marsh and his staff have been moving away from criminal prosecution for nonpayment of child support and toward civil charges.

The advantage, he said, is that there is no “double jeopardy” clause in civil cases. He explained that, in criminal cases, a person charged with the Class D felony of arrearage over $1,000 can be convicted and sentenced to one to five years in prison.

However, once released, if that person still fails to pay support, he or she cannot be jailed again for that same arrearage.

In a civil case, however, a person can be sentenced for up to 180 days in jail. Once released, they can be incarcerated again for 30-180 days if they make no effort to catch up on the payments, Marsh said.

“Our goal is to collect the money,” Marsh said. “We give them every opportunity to pay, but it’s all about the money at this point. We try to work with people to a degree, but at a certain point they either give up the cash or they’re going to jail. ... We are getting very much tougher.”

The county attorney’s office handles child support enforcement through what is known as the Four D program. It is a free service for anyone with court-ordered child support, Marsh explained. “You can make a half a million dollars a year, and you are still entitled to our services free.”

How the system works

While private agreements between both parents often are reached, the court system prefers people use the Four D program, “because we are a record-keeping service as well,” Marsh added.

If there is no court order for support and the parent responsible is not paying anything, the custodial parent should go back to court, Marsh advises, because once court-ordered payments are established, his office can help in collecting the money.

“In our court system, they insist that all child support be paid through wage garnishment, unless there is good reason why it can’t, such as being self-employed,” Marsh said.

People with children who file for divorce in Carroll County Circuit Court automatically receive court-ordered support arrangements.

“A carbon copy of the order comes to our office, and we go from there,” Marsh said. “All court-ordered child support, not just those in arrears, are handled through this office. Also, state medical support comes through here. It’s mandated by the state if you sign up for a medical card, you have to sign up for child support. If you don’t sign up voluntarily, then it is referred to us and we go after child support to re-pay the state. If you don’t pursue child support, then you can lose your medical card.“

“Our office is connected to the K-TAP Program, Kentucky Temporary Assistance Program,” Culver said. “That office administers food stamps, medical cards and similar programs. A lot of times if K-TAP doesn’t pursue the case for reimbursement of birth expenses, we go on and pursue it ourselves on behalf of the cabinet [for Health and Family Services].

“Someone cannot get a child-support check and a welfare check at the same time,” Culver said. “The child support is taken to pay back the welfare.”

Marsh said often, people don’t realize that their obligations to pay child support does not end if they are incarcerated, nor does it end if they are laid off from work. In the case of incarceration, support payments continue to accrue, he said. And, “anyone with an obligation is expected to pay, regardless if they have a job or not.

News-Democrat intern Amanda Hensley contributed to this article.