$66K+ in child support collected

Published 12:05 am Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Covington County DHR has collected more than $66,000 so far this month in child support payments, and still has another docket set today after adding additional days to the court docket this month.

DHR director Lesa Syler said the department worked with local judges and held special docket days in September to target cases that have large arrears. The project has been deemed successful.

DHR attorney Linda James said child support workers, who are assigned a particular part of the alphabet based on the non-custodial parent’s last name, reviewed their files to see what cases needed to brought into court for contempt.

“They also did bring some original support cases,” she said. “We also had some paternity actions, but the emphasis was on contempts and trying to do as many cases as we could.”

Still, James said they did not neglect any new cases that needed establishment.

James explained that in order to prove contempt, one needed an order; proof the other parent had not paid and prove the ability to pay.

“It does not mean the person has a job or income,” she said. “It could mean that they have assets. We have fathers who have trust funds, and one is even in prison.”

Additionally, James said parents who have the ability to earn and don’t (pay) or have the ability to earn more but don’t (pay) can also get into trouble.

“If you can prove someone is trying to dodge the system, it works generally against them,” she said. “Our judges are fair.”

During the court session, James said the docket is called to see who is present.

As each case is presented, a child support worker talks to the non-custodial and custodial parent to see if they can work it out.

If an agreement cannot be reached, James or attorney Lee Enzor will try the case.

“We try these in district or circuit court,” James explained. “We have to ask the judge, to find this woman in contempt and order her to pay $800. You make your request to the judge and the judge decides.”

James said she’s been doing child support cases for many years, and the number of non-custodial female parents has increased.

“Now a third of those are female,” she said.

James said they do not like to ask the court to put people in jail.

“We would rather them be out working and earning,” she said. “It’s always a last resort.”

James said a person usually gets multiple chances in that they go through several channels before ending up in court.

“If the worker believes that the non-custodial parent is trying, they are going to give them a chance,” she said. “They have to convince the child support worker they are trying. Another chance comes to me. If they can convince me, I’m not going to ask that they go to jail.”

James said if neither she nor the child support worker believes they are trying, it will go before the judge.

“Then they have to convince the judge they are trying,” she said.

James said they like to get cases in court as soon as a payment is missed.

“If you can nip it in the bud, it may not go on several months or years,” she said.

This month, James said they have seen a mixture of first-time violators and they have someone who owes $70,000.

The case-load for Covington County DHR averages around 220 cases a month, but with the two special sessions, that number has grown to 297 cases for the month of September.