Collecting support not easy

Published 12:00 am Thursday, August 14, 2003

Parents who leave others with the financial responsibility of raising a child may be stripped of their abilities to hunt, fish, drive, perform certain jobs - or ultimately, their freedom.

According to a release from the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services, Gov. Bob Taft has designated August as Child Support Awareness Month. Activities are planned throughout the state to commemorate the month including community presentations, extended office hours, and distribution of educational materials at many county child support agencies.

Ohio, with 985,000 child support cases, has the sixth-largest child support caseload in the nation. However, it ranks second in the nation in total child support collections and first in non-public assistance cases.

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Child support collection in Lawrence County is still no easy task.

Because of the lack of jobs in Lawrence County, many people move to other areas inside or outside the state, said Gene Myers, supervisor of the Lawrence County Child Support Enforcement Agency. Regardless of where the parents who owe money move, orders still remain.

"It continues to be a major problem," Myers said. "We have to chase them all over Ohio and in other states as well."

Parents paying child support have to pay until the child is emancipated, Myers said. Children are not emancipated until 18-year-olds graduate from high school or until a child still in high school turns 19. In the case of disabled children with special needs, those are owed support until age 25.

Some children who are now in their 20s may be emancipated, but support orders for them still exist in some cases, Myers said. Before these children were emancipated, they had parents who did not pay support. These parents owe what is referred to as rearage costs - costs for raising a child that have not been paid in the past by the non-custodial parent.

"These children may be adults, but we are still required to enforce these orders," Myers said.

Nevertheless, Lawrence County still collects an average of $8 million a year, Myers said. This is a result of several tools, such as paternity establishment, enforcement agencies have to collect the money.

Through partnerships with the Lawrence County sheriff's and prosecutor's offices as well as the courts, not paying child support can be a crime, Myers said.

Also, defaulting on child support payments can result in suspensions of driver's, hunting, fishing and professional licenses; freezes on or seizures of bank accounts and liens on property, Myers said. To get licenses reinstated, a person must agree to either pay their current monthly payment plus 20 percent of rearage costs or all rearage costs and report income and place of employment. In the case of drivers' licenses, a person is then given a reinstatement form which must be brought to the Bureau of Motor Vehicles reinstatement office in Jackson. The reinstatement forms are sent in the mail by the child support enforcement agency in the case of the other licenses.

Suspending drivers' licenses, Myers said, has been one of the most effective tools. Two-hundred-and-fifty licenses have been suspended in Lawrence County since county support agencies were allowed to do this in November 2001.