DA’s office to enforce child support payments

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Covington County is changing who deals with child support enforcement.

Beginning yesterday, the Covington County District Attorney’s office will handle the enforcement side of collecting delinquent child support payments.

1102-child-support-past-due“The Department of Human Resources has traditionally used private sector resources to try to enforce child support orders and collect delinquent amounts,” District Attorney Walt Merrell said. “Ultimately, DHR is still in charge, but they are now turning to us for help with enforcement.”

In March, longtime attorneys Sonny and Linda James retired after 38 years in law practice in Andalusia, where they spent a large amount of their time fighting for children through child support cases and protective services cases with DHR.

Through the Jameses’ efforts, child support collections through DHR rose from $300,000 to more than $4 million.

DHR Director Lesa Syler said that in 2015, DHR collected $4,404,198 through its collection efforts and payment center for the children of Covington County.

Syler said she is confident that “having the complement of the district attorney, his lawyers and his investigators added to our team is going to enable us to better serve the people.”

The arrangement between DHR and the district attorney’s office is a common practice throughout the state and it’s a model that the majority of offices use in Alabama, she said.

Merrell said that there are currently 2,243 child support obligation cases in Covington County.

“Not all of those cases are delinquent,” he said. “In fact, most are current and compliant, but at any given moment, we will have 300-400 cases that need some prompting. Our job will be to bring those delinquent parents to court in an effort to get the Judge to compel payment. Make no mistake though; it is not about the parent. It is about the child.”

Merrell said he has assigned a full-time investigator, David Brownlee, and has two prosecutors, Assistant District Attorneys Lee Enzor and Gypsy Smith, working part-time on collecting child support. He said the investigator will be charged with serving papers and effecting arrests of delinquent parents.

“That’s a new element that we’ve never had,” Syler said. “

Merrell encouraged parents who are currently delinquent in their child support payments to contact Jeff Sellers, the DA’s child support unit coordinator, at 334-427-7956 and make arrangements to get compliant in order to avoid arrest.

Syler said those who are looking to begin the process of collecting child support, they just need to come to DHR.

“A person simply has to come into our office and complete an application for child support services,” she said. “An appointment will be made for the person to meet with a DHR child support worker and the case will be opened for services.”