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Monday, February 2, 2009

State cracks down on late payments

A new central database could allow the Monroe County Prosecutor’s Office to more effectively pursue enforcement measures for outstanding child support debts, including the suspension of hunting, fishing and driver’s licenses.As part of a new pilot program unfolding in eight Indiana counties, the Child Support Division of the Prosecutor’s Office will cooperate with the Indiana Department of Natural Resources, using the database to enforce suspensions of recreational licenses.The License Suspension Statute, which allows the Child Support Division to suspend driver’s licenses to enforce payments, has been on Indiana’s books for years. The statute also permits the suspension of recreational licenses, but until recently there was no way to enforce the suspensions in an organized fashion, said Bill Welch, deputy prosecutor and supervisor for the Child Support Division.Before, if the court suspended a hunting or fishing license, nothing could prevent the offender from simply getting a new one, Welch said. The new database allows the Department of Natural Resources to keep track of license suspensions statewide.Gov. Mitch Daniels announced Phase I of the pilot program in October 2008. Modeled after successful efforts in Maine, Washington, Tennessee and Mississippi, the goal of the program is to increase the state’s child support collections, according to a press release from the governor’s office. The first phase used the statewide child support computer system to target the most extreme cases, in which non-custodial parents owed at least $25,000 and hadn’t made payments for a year or more. The governor’s office estimated this applied to about 4,000 cases in the eight participating counties.The implementation of Phase I made little difference in child support payments in Monroe County, Welch said, because almost all of the offenders were either already facing felony charges, were incarcerated for other reasons or already had their licenses suspended. Of the 50 Monroe County cases extracted in Phase I, only five didn’t involve these issues. Four out of five reached an agreement with the Prosecutor’s Office.“The actual effectiveness of that program in getting child support paid was very limited, but what it did allow us to do was work out the bugs,” Welch said.By the end of January, the Child Support Division was scheduled to proceed to Phase II, which targets cases with lower debts. Welch said the computer singled out about 175 cases for Phase II.The Child Support Division has reviewed each case and will soon send out letters advising offenders that their driver’s and recreational licenses could be suspended if they do not contact the Prosecutor’s Office.“If they contact us at any point in that process, the license suspension stops because we would much rather have the child support than suspend anybody’s license,” Welch said. “The person has lots of chances.”Welch said suspending driver’s licenses could be counterproductive if it prevents the offender from getting to work, but the suspension of recreational licenses provides incentive to start making payments. “It does work. There have been occasions where we have threatened to take the license and get a court order and they have, in fact, come up with the money to pay their child support,” Welch said.The Department of Child Services estimated that in 2008, Indiana collected $580 million in current and overdue child support payments, a $45 million increase from 2007. more

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