Saturday, April 17, 2004

County: Pay up, or walk


Parents who neglect child support targeted

By Cindi Andrews
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Hamilton County is driving some parents to help pay for their kids' food, clothes and shelter.

In the past 15 months, the county has suspended the driver's licenses of 7,305 parents who weren't paying their court-ordered child support. About 14 percent paid enough to get their licenses reinstated - a total of more than $1 million - while some 5,881 licenses remain suspended.

"The more licenses we suspend, the more money we collect, and the more effective it is," said Aiesha Walker, child support chief for the county Department of Job and Family Services. "It works for some folks we can't find, but it also works for people who may be working under the table."

Statewide, 61,926 driver's licenses have been suspended and a quarter reinstated since Ohio began allowing license suspensions in late 2001. Butler, Warren and Clermont counties all use license suspensions to force unwilling parents to pay child support, as does Northern Kentucky.

Suspending a person's right to drive is usually a last resort, said Dennis Evans, a spokesman for Ohio Job and Family Services.

"There are some tools you try before using a sledgehammer," he said.

The father of 4-year-old Skyler Vaughn needed the sledgehammer.

"He won't pay unless he's threatened to get something done to him," Jeannie Vaughn, 26, of Norwood said of her former boyfriend.

He paid $990 in child support for Skyler after Hamilton County suspended his driver's license in February, although Jeannie Vaughn said he still owes close to $6,000.

"It's a help, because I'm used to getting nothing," she said.

Typically, child support payments are withheld from non-custodial parents' paychecks. Sometimes, though, employers don't report their employees, and other times delinquent parents switch jobs before child support officials catch up with them.

The county's collections from license suspensions were just a fraction of the $153.8 million paid for child support last year - 0.4 percent of the total.

That's not good enough, said child support activist Carrie Davis of Groesbeck. Statewide, only about two-thirds of child support is paid.

"I have too many calls every day from people who aren't getting their money," said Davis, president of Child Advocacy for Rights and Equity.

Thousands of delinquent parents in Hamilton County still haven't paid despite having their driver's licenses suspended. They may not have read the warning letters from Job and Family Services, or they may not have even received the letters if the agency doesn't have a current address for them.

They may not learn their license is suspended until they try to renew it or get pulled over by a police officer.

County Job and Family Services officials aren't concerned about putting those folks on the wrong side of the law.

"They're already lawbreakers by not paying child support," Assistant Director Rick Roberts said. "We're trying to help the children."

For more information

Parents who are having problems getting their child support payments can inquire about their cases by calling 946-7387. They may also e-mail questions via Hamilton County Job and Family Services' Web site, www.hcjfs.org.

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E-mail candrews@enquirer.com

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