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$18M+ in child support owed

Custodial parents in Covington County are owed more than $18 million in unpaid child support.

Lesa Rathel, Covington County DHR director, said that those figures are current as of Jan. 31, 2020.

“These arrears are for cases that are currently open to child support services, with some being 20-plus years old,” she said.

Just last month, a little more than half – 57.59 percent of child support owed was collected. For January 2020, $447,540.74 was owed to custodial parents and $257,763.72 was collected.

In Covington County, District Attorney Walt Merrell’s office is in charge of enforcement.

Jeff Sellers heads up that division for the DA’s office.

Sellers said there are 2,200 child support cases open.

“Our first role as partners with DHR is to facilitate the flow of child support from DHR through the court system,” he said.

Locally, Sellers and staff locate, pursue and prosecute non-custodial parents who have outstanding child support payments.

Sellers said that once the non-custodial parent misses one month in payments, then staff members start pursuing a way to get that parent to court for contempt of court.

Then, they work to get that parent back on track with child support. Among the tactics used is requiring the non-custodial parent to pay a certain amount of the total owed before being released from jail.

But what about non-custodial parents who haven’t been found?

Sellers said they have location tools that they use for investigative purposes through the DA’s office.

Additionally, DHR has the other means of locating non-custodial parents administratively, which includes income-withholding orders through employers and suspension of driver’s licenses and passports.

On the enforcement side, Sellers said they were able to recoup $103,025 just by getting non-custodial parents who were not paying.

Last month, that number was $12,630.

“Millions of dollars are collected every year,” Sellers said. “A lot of the big collections aren’t cases that we have our hands on.”

Instead Sellers said the DA’s office concentrates on non-custodial parents who simply don’t pay.

Sellers said that non-custodial parents will go to jail if they do not pay.

“What we are here for is to pursue what is to due to the children of Covington County,” he said. “The vast majority of non-custodial parents pay like they should. It’s just a small amount that are the difficult ones.”

It’s not just Covington County that has higher number of child support owed to custodial parents.

Statewide, $4.1 billion was owed at the end of the budget year 2019.

There were more than 205,000 open cases statewide, as well.

“For many families in our community the collection of child support is essential in meeting the needs of their children. On behalf of these children Covington County DHR’s Child Support Enforcement Unit, in partnership with our DA’s office and our local court system, collected just over 4.1 million dollars in FY 2019. I appreciate the work that the dedicated and knowledgeable Child Support Caseworkers and staff do each day to ensure that the needs of children are being met in our county,” Rathel said.