Sunday, August 22, 2010

Child Support Enforcement Sucks

Be forewarned: This is a rant. Let me preface this by adding that my child does not read this blog, so I can give details he doesn't know or need to know about.

This might sound horrible, but I've been happily divorced for 10 years now. The filing process started in July 1999, but due to some lost paperwork via the Orange County Sheriff's Department (namely, proof that my ex had been served with the divorce decree), the marriage wasn't legally dissolved until January of 2001. For those of you that have never been through a divorce in New York state when there are children from the union, before the specifics about the division of assets and property can be handled, child custody and support has to be settled via family court. The amount of child support to be paid by the non-custodial parent is determined by his or her income. In our case, because we only had one child, my ex was ordered to pay 17% of his income a month for child support, which came to $624 a month. He was also ordered to keep health insurance for our son.

Three years later, when going to have my son's asthma prescription filled at the pharmacy, I found out his insurance had been canceled. Child support for that month also never arrived. My employer did not offer health insurance for family members so I quickly enrolled my son in the state Child Health Plus program, but it took six weeks before the application was approved and he had insurance again. Counting the two weeks he was without insurance before I found out, it was two months total that he had absolutely no coverage. Thank goodness it didn't happen, but if my child would have had an asthma attack, a broken bone or even a deep cut requiring stitches during those two months, I would have been in a world of financial hurt.

Two months of calls to the county Child Support Enforcement Unit (who, at the time, only took calls between 9am and 10:30am daily) netted no information about the missing child support, other than the fact that my ex - whose wages were being garnished for child support - was no longer employed by the same company. Their suggestion was to file paperwork in Family Court for a support violation. That meant a drive to Goshen during the workday, filling out the paperwork, having my ex served with the paperwork, waiting on a court date then taking another half-day off from work to appear before a support magistrate.

So I did all that. The court date was two months down the road and when we arrived, we were told to come back again two months after that. By then, child support hadn't been received in almost seven months.

To make a very long story short, this went on for over two years. At one of the hearings, I finally found out that my ex had been fired from his job allegedly for an injury which also kept him from finding gainful employment. At that hearing, his support obligation was reduced to $50 a month - the minimum amount allowed in the state. He was over $9,000 in arrears by that point, though.

But I also found out he was eligible to collect state disability, and since my son was under 18, he was also entitled to collect. So, another half-day off from work was needed to go down to the Social Security office and file the necessary paperwork to have that begin. That amount was $360 a month - a little more than half of what used to come in for support.

Our final trip back to support court was under a new magistrate (the one who had reduced my ex to the state minimum had thankfully retired) - who promptly ordered my ex to pay 17% of what he was receiving from disability to fulfill his support obligation - a total of $150 per month. About six months ago, a cost of living adjustment (COLA) was granted, bringing the total amount my ex now actually pays out of pocket in monthly support to $170. That's a whopping $42.50 a week.

Cut to August 2010. Because of his non-payment history, I always check the state website to see if/when the payment was posted. It is due before the fifth of each month and the state is required by law to forward the payment within 48 hours of receiving it. So by August 10, when it still hadn't been received - although it had been posted on August 4 - I discovered I had to wait 10 days before I could notify the support collection unit that the payment never made it to our mailbox. On August 14, I called to find out I had to wait 10 BUSINESS DAYS before I could report the missing check. I called back on August 18 to be told that, even though my mail had been delivered for the day, I still had to wait until 12am August 19 before I could report the missing payment. When I called back the next morning, I was told that the "stop payment" form would be mailed to me the following day and should arrive within five business days. Emailing or faxing it was not an option. Nope, I'm not kidding.

Fortunately, I did receive it yesterday, but getting it back meant I had to put a stamp on an envelope and mail it back - a process that could take another five days or so. Hopefully, the check - now almost a month late - will be re-issued by the end of next week.

In these tough economic times, it doesn't seem like too outlandish a scenario to think that some custodial parent might actually need that money for food, back-to-school shopping or whatever else little Junior or Suzy may have to have. The idea that it would take so long to even be able to report a missing check is unbelievable. Why is nobody protesting or complaining about that?

Yep - child support enforcement and collection absolutely suck...


  1. Unbelievable the things you have to grow through. My Niece has been trying to get child support in Florida for 15 months now. The father finally got served about two weeks ago. I wonder how long it will take for her to actually get a check.

  2. It is such a slow and inefficient process unfortunately. Even though the law recognizes that two parents must financially provide for the child, when one doesn't, the burden of proof always falls on the parent who is doing the right thing. Think of how many clothing sizes your niece's child has gone through and how many meals he or she has eaten in 15 months. To get no help with that at all is sad - but sadder still is when help is sought, "hurry up and wait" becomes the order of the day. It's just sick...


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