Cash or consequences: The fight over unpaid child support

Updated: Nov. 21, 2019 at 9:50 PM CST
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MORGAN COUNTY, Ala. (WAFF) - It’s a dilemma many parents face: child support that a former spouse just won’t pay.

For those dealing with this situation, they say it should be cash or consequences. But both can be hard to come by.

One such frustrated mother is Samantha Griffith. WAFF 48 News interviewed her in 2013. At the time, she said she was owed “$23,999 in arrears and 27,223.02 in interest, which well comes over $50,000.”

Now, Griffith says, “I just have to calculate it myself."

Griffith says between payments and interest over the last 20 years, it’s difficult to say how much child support her ex-husband owes.

To make matters worse, she says she can't get much out of the Morgan County Department of Human Resources either.

“You can call DHR and ask speak to your worker, you never get a return phone call, you never get an appointment, you never get an update. The only update I have on how much he owes is from 2011," she said.

She did receive a notice in the mail last year saying DHR was closing her case, stating: “The noncustodial parent’s location is unknown, and diligent efforts using multiple sources have been unsuccessful over a two year period."

This is shocking because Griffith claims he’s been in the same house for years, and she even knew where he went to church.

“I got angry. I’m not going to sugarcoat it. I got angry so I went to social media," said Griffith.

She posted about his lack of support for all to see.

And if it wasn’t for a trip to the courthouse to renew a pistol permit, she wouldn’t have known her case was set to go before a judge. Her showing up put a stop to closing her case.

Whether it was the court date or the public embarrassment, Griffith has started receiving payments.

“Nothing happens with your case unless you force it," she said.

Morgan County’s DHR executive director wouldn’t comment specifically on this case.

But this number may explain a lot. Morgan County’s DHR has 5,000 current child support cases spread among 10 cases workers to handle. Currently, $851,000 is owed in child support in Morgan County, $53 million in arrears, $53.6 million in interest, bringing the total amount owed in the ball park of $107 million.

So where do the consequences come in?

“For the most part, when they get in front of a judge, a judge will hold them accountable, but it’s getting in front of a judge,” said attorney Suzette Daniels.

Daniels says serving parents who duck and dodge the system is one of the biggest challenges.

So why aren't they going to jail?

“I’ll be honest with you. Usually it has to be something very egregious. Maybe they’ve been in front of this judge or any judge several times for not paying," Daniels said.

Here’s what DHR can actually do to collect child support. If the parent who owes child support has a job, their wages can be garnished, their driver’s license can be suspended, their passport pulled, a lien could be placed on their property, and their state and federal income tax refunds can be seized.

“The problem with DHR would be they have very large caseloads. You’re not going to get one-on-one help," Daniels said.

You could go with a private attorney like Daniels but she understands that isn’t financially feasible for most parents. So sometimes you have to do your own legwork.

“If you can show what their lifestyle is. Maybe they just bought a new car, maybe they are getting a new house, maybe they are going on vacation. You cannot force a man or a woman for that matter to support their child but you can make it inconvenient," said Daniels.

Part of the legwork you can do on your own is contacting two agencies yourself: the U.S. Treasury Department, which issues IRS tax refunds, and the Social Security Administration.

You can fill out a form for both notifying them of your unpaid child support. This way, if a person ever tries to file for a tax refund or Social Security, their debt will be paid before it’s ever issued.

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