Parents who avoid or refuse to pay child support will eventually pay, one way or another.
Clay Pettis, assistant district attorney and managing attorney for District 22 Child Support Services Division(CSSD), said “there is no incentive for delay. We have two aspects of what we do within the child support program; we establish support orders, and we enforce them,” he said.
Pettis said a non-paying parent can be ordered to pay back child support dating back to the child/children’s birth or five years, which can add up to thousands of dollars.
“Ada/Wewoka averages more than a half-million dollars per month in child support on behalf of children and families, said Jeff M. Wagner, program administrator for communications and community relations with the Oklahoma Department of Human Services Child Support Division. “For May 2011, Ada/Wewoka collected $574,605. Ada/Wewoka has 4,510 active child support cases within the three counties it serves. Of these, approximately 72 percent of non-custodial parents made court-ordered child support payments in June.”
He said statewide, CSSDs have 201,258 active child support cases and collect more than $300 million each year. “Ada/Wewoka is part of a statewide initiative launched this spring to improve the number and percent of ‘good paying customers’, that is, those who pay 100 percent of their court-ordered current (monthly) support obligation,” he said.
The CSSD offices of Ada and Wewoka are paired together and serve Pontotoc, Seminole and Hughes counties.
There are three ways for child support to be ordered. It can be ordered through divorce, a parent can ask the CSSD for help, or the CSSD is contacted when a parent places a child on Medicaid program such as Soonercare.
Pettis said in the case of a child born out of wedlock, the mother must establish paternity first.
“What the filing for a paternity action does is establish the gentleman’s status as the legal father,” Pettis said. “It’s based upon his determination that he is the biological father through genetic testing.”
If a potential father refuses to be tested, he will be ordered to take the test.
“If he refuses to show up, then we typically file a motion for default to have him declared the father,” Pettis said, “or we’ll file a contempt action to have him obey the court’s order to appear for genetic testing.”
Pettis said the man could be arrested, but it is a last resort.
“They could end up in jail if they don’t start obeying, but again, that’s not the aim of it,” he said. “Because it obviously begs the question, ‘Well if I’m in jail, I certainly can’t pay child support because I’m in jail,” he said.
“But I’ve seen it time and time again where a person with no good excuse is just not paying, the possibility of incarceration is a strong motivator.”
Pettis said the CSSD represents the state and not the mother or the father. Parents are referred to as customers and the term “deadbeat parent” is shunned.
“We don’t use the term deadbeat parent anymore,” he said. “The whole thrust of the child support program is to support healthy families and parents supporting their children is a big part of that. Because raising kids takes money.”
Pettis said if a parent refuses to pay support, there are other means available.
“We have other means of enforcement (such as) wage assignments, federal income tax intercepts, state income tax intercepts, liens, there are a number of tools available to us, but the whole idea again is just to have the parents be reliable means of support.”
He said the state of Oklahoma works with all other states in the nation and even many other countries, so a parent can’t just leave the state to avoid child support.
August is National Child Support Awareness month.