WAFF Investigates: Child support and deadbeat dilemma - WLOX.com - The News for South Mississippi

WAFF Investigates: Child support and deadbeat dilemma

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Parents trying to get child support said navigating the system is difficult. (Photo: MGN Online) Parents trying to get child support said navigating the system is difficult. (Photo: MGN Online)
ALABAMA (WAFF) -

When a parent is ordered to pay child support and they don't, they often get referred to as a "deadbeat" parent.

But parents have shockingly few options to actually hold deadbeat parents accountable.

This is a topic that brings up a lot of hurt, a lot of anger and even vindictive behavior. It's a widespread problem and it is a real dilemma short on solutions.

Parents said navigating their way through our state child support system is like going through a maze blindfolded, and actually collecting past due child support is even harder

"He is $23,999 in arrears and $27,223.02 in interest, which well comes over $50 grand," said Samantha Griffith.

Morgan County resident Samantha Griffith fears her child will never see that money. She said her ex-husband left her daughter's life when she was just three years old. Since then, she's accumulated piles of paperwork but not one penny in child support.

"There's a man out there that has not held up to his responsibility," added Griffith.

Ettoria Walker in Lauderdale County was receiving support for her son but said that suddenly stopped last year. She's owed nearly $15,000. She's hit a brick wall trying to collect but said it isn't because Dad doesn't have the dollars.

"I've got stuff of what his wife posted on Facebook of Disney World pictures with him and his new kids. I can't get anybody to do anything about it," said Walker.

Both women feel the men should be behind bars.

"He lives in south Alabama and I can't get DHR to arrest him, make him pay," added Walker.

"He had been arrested on non-payment of child support with a warrant but got out on a $600 bond," said Griffith.

Their stories just scratch the surface.

According to the Department of Human Resources, when it comes to past due child support in the Valley, Madison County comes in the highest with more than $1.4 million owed, and Morgan County comes in second with nearly $800,000.

"We collect about 50% of what's owed," said Mary Jo Dennison, Madison County DHR's Assistant Director of Financial Programs.

Dennison said it's tough to track a parent who owes child support down and get proof they can pay.

"There are people who just hide, they work for cash and they hop from place to place so we can never locate them," added Dennison.

Getting them to show up for court is even harder.

"We have to have a process server go serve him for court, and he may not be at that address, and he may be hiding in that very address and we don't know he's in there," said Dennison.

Not to mention Madison County case workers have about 1200 cases each.

Most parents we spoke with just want to see cash or consequences. Christopher Workman is owed close to $9,000 in back support. The mother of his child has been in and out of jail for more than just child support.

"She was finally picked up on that warrant when she was picked up in Limestone County on drug charges," said Workman.

Workman feels DHR has done everything it can to track her, but at the end of the day, "Her warrant is not through DHR and it's through probation and until they can get her back in court, they are pretty much completely frozen."

DHR does have the ability to garnish the wages of a parent who owes child support. Their driver's license can be suspended. Their passport pulled. A lien could be placed on their property, and their state and federal income tax refunds can be seized.

While DHR handles the civil side of things, Assistant District Attorney Tim Callins steps in on the criminal side.

A so-called deadbeat can face up to one year in jail. If they are found to be in contempt of court, each time they miss a payment, it is supposed to equal five days in jail. So if a parent missed 12 months of payments, that's 60 days in jail…or is it?

"I'll be honest, when we find contempt, we don't send people to jail the first time. The judges don't do it and you can understand, again if the guy is in jail he's not going to pay child support," said Callins.

Callins said what could help is a family court in each county that solely handles cases of child support. There's also a need for more judges to handle child support, paternity and divorces.

Also needed is an investigator. "We don't even have one, we would love to have an investigator that could go out and investigate claims," added Callins.

However, even if you make it over all the hurdles to collect child support: "No court can make them be a good parent," said Callins.

Copyright 2013 WAFF. All rights reserved.

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