News 5 Investigates

Dec 13, 2013 12:51 PM by Eric Ross

News 5 Investigates: Unpaid child support

A viewer news tip sent into News 5 led to the discovery of millions of dollars in unpaid child support across Pueblo and El Paso counties.

To date, there are nearly 30,000 active child support cases in those two counties. Both have seen an increase in cases since the start of the recession.

"It's very hard to see a custodial parent coming into the office begging for his/her child support and we can't collect it," Mindy Purcell, child support program manager with the Pueblo County Department of Social Services said. "They struggle. If the mom is the one who has the child, she's counting on that money from dad to support that child.

While there isn't a public database that distinguishes delinquent offenders by gender type, News 5 was able to obtain overwhelming debt statistics that's forced custodial parents to pinch pennies every day.

To date, nearly $53 million is owed to Pueblo County. El Paso County was unable to provide this exact statistic, but did say roughly $16.5 million is owed for 2013.

"We work everyday on those cases (outstanding debt cases) because those are the ones that we need to focus on," Jeff Ball with El Paso County Child Support Services said.

Unfortunately, some parents who fail to get support, have no option but to turn to public assistance which is funded by taxpayers.

Ball admits, there are barriers and roadblocks involved with collections.

"We have people who go from job to job to job so we are always catching up with them," he said. "We have people who get paid in cash and sometimes they are not forthcoming with the amount that they are earning. We also have interstate cases and in many of those cases we have to rely on another state to do the collecting for us."

Nobody knows the difficulty involving an interstate child support cases better than Jennifer Danley. She's a mother of two who's still waiting on her ex-husband to pay $115,000 in child support. Jennifer says her ex, Corey, lives in Texas, but El Paso County hasn't had much success in getting him to pay.

"They've taken his drivers license away in Colorado and that's it," Danley said.

Counties have legal authority to garnish wages, suspend a driver's license or arrest a parent who does not comply with court orders. However, neither guarantees any money will be collected, especially if the parent is working "under the table," is unemployed or behind bars.

"We have a very large caseload of people who are currently incarcerated," Ball said. "We reduce the child support order to $50 per month while they are in jail."

Danley doesn't necessarily want her ex locked up. She'd rather he step up and help with her children's expenses. Danley and her ex-husband, Corey split in 2000. Since being ordered to pay support, Corey has made periodic payments. However, online documents show he hasn't made a payment since 2012.

"I haven't received any payments since last year," she said. "I haven't received a phone call or anything."

Due to privacy matters, child support offices are not allowed to speak specifically about open, individual cases.

However, if you find yourself in a similar situation and are having trouble getting payments, you should frequently check in with the caseworker handling your specific case. Also, it's imperative you pass along updated addresses and phone numbers not only for yourself, but the other party. Lastly, keep copies of court papers, emails and other important documents in a safe place for easy access when you need them.

Both El Paso and Pueblo counties believe the current collection system and penalties are effective. They point out only a small number of cases, roughly 10-15 percent involve parents who deliberately fail to pay their court ordered support.

In 2013 in El Paso County, 51 people have been sentenced to serve jail time for contempt proceedings involving child support. The average time spent behind bars was 53 days.

Pueblo County did not have these statistics available at the time of our request.

The following are driver's license suspensions related to unpaid child support for all cases in Colorado:
2010: 17,234
2011: 18,911
2012: 17,834
2013: No data available yet

Other agencies outside of Colorado have used "warrant roundup" tactics to get parents to pay support. Neither El Paso or Pueblo County have participated in this type of crackdown.

Single parents awaiting child support should check in frequently with their individual caseworker. Be sure to keep all court orders and paperwork in a safe place for easy reference when it comes time to appear in court. Also, be sure to keep your caseworker updated on any address and phone number changes not only for you, but the other party.



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