Current child support officer finally opening my yap and preparing to duck the onslaught of rotten vegetable matter soon to be tossed at me.
(FWIW, I’ve been doing this for over 10 years and love my job. While we are being pushed to behave like a collection agency, which we technically are, I refuse to. It’s my opinion that we deal with a very touchy area in an ex-couple’s lives - money and children. It gets very complicated and, well, icky. I’m also in our own system and have the “privilege” to see it from the outside. I know I’m an exception to the rule. We DO have some total burn out asshats in our office. That’s not to say I’m not called a bitch, c**t, stupid fucker or any other variation on a daily basis. It goes with the job.)
I answered nyctea directly, so I won’t go further into that. But I would like to possibly MAYBE clear up some misconceptions regarding how we work IN GENERAL. Note that states are different. We all work under Federal Guidelines. Some states (like Cali) have the child support office work out of the county attorney’s office. Ours works out of Human Services and Public Health division. This division also encompasses welfare, daycare assistance, elder assistance, that type of service. Some counties in some states have privatized their system.
For the most part the state that collects the child support is either the state where the original order was filed. For example, you divorced in Minnesota. IF the custodial parent opens a case while residing in Minnesota, that’s where it will remain no matter where s/he resides. IF s/he moves to another state, the case will remain in Minnesota UNLESS the custodial parent opens a child support case in said other state (this can be willingly opened or if s/he receives public assistance it will automatically be opened). In that case the new state MAY leave the case with us, which is usually what’s done if the payor is residing in Minnesota. If neither party are in Minnesota anymore, usually the state where the custodial parent is now residing will take the Minnesota divorce decree and register it in their courts. We would then close our case and ship everything off to the new state. Note I said usually. Some states with child support systems that suck ass will leave the cases with us so as not to have to deal with it. It doesn’t come down to the whim of the child support officer where the case goes, it’s directed by the court order.
Many of you talk about jail and drivers’ license suspension and various other evil tactics we use to coerce payment. I can only talk about he state I work for and note that I am writing this as ME, not a representative of our system. YMMV and all that. We do not arbitrarily suspend licenses (driving, occupational, recreational). It’s specifically spelled out in statute and clients need to meet certain criteria. We send notice when a case is first eligible for suspension. We send it to the address we have on file. If that address is wrong, well, nothing I can do about it. Court orders specifically state you have 10 days to notify us of address/employer changes. Once that notice is sent out by us there is 110 days to rectify the matter. Approximately 10 days before the actual suspension the Department of Public Safety sends official notice to the address on your current license stating “Hey, you lose your driving privileges the first Monday next month. Call your worker”. Of course very few people actually contact us until they’re pulled over. At that point we attempt to figure out something workable for all parties. However, the court order is the court order.
When a client meets the criteria to pursue civil contempt we contact the payor in both writing (again to the addy we have, be it right or wrong) and by phone (the numbers we have, be they right or wrong) in hopes to rectify the matter before having to file with the courts. The payor must be PERSONALLY SERVED with the notices and affidavits. We can’t just schlump someone off to soap up with Bubba. Now if the payor chooses to miss the initial hearing, yeah a bench warrant will be issued. Jail time is a deprivation of freedom. We can’t just toss people in willy nilly. It’s also not a quick thing. That whole ‘due process’ comes into play. IF a payor is found to be in contempt they receive a stayed sentence. IOW, they’re sentenced to, say, 180 days at the workhouse but it will not be carried out if s/he starts paying. Many do. Some don’t. If there’s a warrant out they go directly to jail, do not pass go. They can bail out, and bail becomes child support. For some people bail is the only child support they will ever see.
Income withholding is federally mandated under PRWORA HR 3734. We began Income Witholding in 1992 here, except if it’s specifically addressed in a court order or unless the case isn’t opened through the child support agency. For many payors it makes life easier - they do not have to think about sending in payments. That’s not to say problems do not arise with leaving the garnishments to a 3rd party. Some of the child support I was to have received for my child was used to fund my ex’s quick exit from our fair state. I’ll never see the money again. Technically, is an employer withholds but does not send in it’s on the payors’ head to prove it was garnished. We then go after the employer for civil contempt. Just because it’s automatically withheld does not diminish a payors responsibility to check to verify whether the agency is actually receiving the payments.
Opening a case with an agency is not always required. If public assistance of any type is in place, be it medical assistance, cash aid, and/or child care assistance we are mandated to open a case. If no public assistance in open a party, EITHER PARTY, can apply for our services for a whopping $25.00. If paternity has not been established we do that. We’ll set the hearing, do the blood tests, assist parties in obtaining an order for support. Once there is an order for support, be it a paternity order, a divorce order, a domestic abuse order or one of a variety of other types of orders the case moves on to the enforcement of said order. Our state has imposed a fee on collecting child support. 1% of everything received is kept by the state. The reason for this is because Federal dollars are shrinking. The feds keep raising the bar on what we are required to do in order to obtain funds. If we do not meet these expectations we lose money. It’s a vicious circle. Our state is usually very good in our meeting federal mandates, in fact we have some of the highest collection rates in the US, but it’s more difficult to fund the agency. The feds also decided to tack on a $25 annual fee taken from the monies a custodial parent receives after s/he receives the first $500 in a fiscal year. There are some exclusions to that fee, but I personally think it’s a pain.
rhysdad, may I apologize for the treatment you’ve received from our agency? I do not know if your case is with my particular agency (starts with a H), but there is no way a worker should have said such things to you. When your ex applied she would’ve completed an affidavit of pre-application arrears. If she didn’t we would’ve started charging the first of the month following when she applied. If there was a known employer we would’ve sent income withholding right away. Your employer has 14 days from when they receive the order to actually start withholding and 7 days from when you’re paid to remit the $$ to St Paul. You should’ve received notice from our agency that your case was opened. Please feel free to contact me if you want to vent more - I can take it.
I know we’re not a perfect system. We TRY our damndest not to be biased. At least most of us do. It does get frustrating when the personal bitches between the parties preclude us from trying to collect what a court has ordered. We are required by law to carry out things that I sometimes think is unfair. In Minnesota the entire manner in which child support is set by the courts was completely overhauled. It’s too new to see whether it’s going to work great, but now it takes both parties and subsequent families into account. It’s a start.
Feel free to start lobbing at me.