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Dealing with a ‘deadbeat’

Children’s lives go on as state’s system attempts to find parent, force payment

For 17 years, Heather has been fighting for child support from her son’s father.

Between medical bills reimbursements and child support, she is owed more than $180,000.

Because of her ex’s violent nature when Heather’s son was a child, she had to get several restraining orders. Her son has not seen his father since the child was very young.

Through the years, his father would pay off and on, but the last child support payment received was in 2005. 

“I’m livid, so I’ve gone to the state’s attorney’s office,” said Heather, of Morris.

She has exhausted every outlet, from the Department of Healthcare and Family Services to the Illinois Attorney General, and now is waiting and praying the Grundy County State’s Attorney’s office can file criminal charges against this deadbeat dad whose last known address is in Alabama.

“We are still investigating. I don’t anticipate anything until mid-July,” Grundy County State’s Attorney Sheldon Sobol said.

In Sobol’s time as state’s attorney, he has never prosecuted a criminal charge involving child support. The deadbeat dad in question already has an outstanding warrant for his arrest, but he has not been caught.

“He appears to be the poster child (of a deadbeat dad) in Grundy County,” Sobol said.

“This is the first time in nine years (a child support case for criminal charges) has come across our desks,” he continued.

It can be difficult to file criminal charges in these cases because the state statute for criminal prosecution requires it be shown that the person has the ability to pay and is not. This can be difficult to prove, Sobol said.

But even before this step, the court system has to exhaust all efforts first, he said.

The courts work diligently with both of the parents to make payments doable and get child support on a schedule, he said.

“The goal is to make sure the kid is supported,” Sobol said.

In Heather’s case, that goal has been extremely difficult to reach.

According to the state, this is probably because of how often her ex relocates.

IMPERFECT SYSTEM

Pamela Lowry, administrator for the Division of Child Support Enforcement of the Illinois Department of Healthcare and Family Services, cannot comment on specific cases, but admitted the system is not perfect.

“We cannot guarantee success in every case,” Lowry said. “There are people who organize their life around avoiding child support and, obviously, this is a terrible thing to do to children.”

She said there are two kinds of parents who avoid child support — those who don’t have the means to pay, so they avoid it, and those who do have the means and still avoid it.

“And there are those parents who you never hear about that do pay their support all the time,” Lowry said. 

Heather believes her ex does have the means, or at least did before his lack of payments put what he owes into the six digits.

To receive assistance from the state’s child enforcement division, a person must enroll by application, which Heather first did in 1994, when her son was 2 years old.

Once enrolled, the state begins tracking the neglectful parents’ employers, both within the state and nationally if he or she has moved out of state. If the individual is found, the state can arrange income withholding, offset tax refunds, even withhold lottery winnings, Lowry said.

If the state is unable to do this, it can suspend a driver’s license and stop a person from applying for a passport. Both of these actions have been done to Heather’s ex.

“In between all of this, he’s even collected unemployment and I didn’t get any checks from that,” Heather said.

The state can even go as far as putting a lean on a house and take profits from a sold residence.

“We make it harder and harder every year for a parent not paying their obligation,” Lowry said.

In rare cases, the delinquent parent can be posted on the Deadbeat Parent website, www.ilchildsupport.com/deadbeats/. According to the site, a parent can be added to the website when he or she owes “$5,000 or more in past-due child support accumulated under an Illinois court or an administrative support order.”

The site is limited to 200 cases. Heather’s ex was added to the website this month.

“The deadbeat website is about shame,” Lowry said. “We can’t compute (its effectiveness), but we have had people call with payments because they fear being on the website. So, we do get some payments and we do get tips.”

Lowry said the more information the state has on the delinquent parent, the better. Heather said she has shared everything she has ever found, including past addresses, employers, and even a last known address in Alabama she paid for through an Internet search.

But when Illinois requested Alabama find him, it could not and returned the case to Illinois.

“I can find him, but they can’t? They say he’s missing,” Heather said.

Prior to his move out of state, Heather’s ex lived in the area, including Morris, Ottawa and Marseilles, she said.

When a delinquent parent moves from state to state, tracking him or her becomes harder. To have support taken from income, the employer has to be found, served, and then the employer has to adjust its payroll.

Many times, by the time this occurs, the parent moves again, Lowry said.

“Unfortunately it is a slow process. We have to take a lot of legal requirements and those don’t happen overnight,” Lowry said. “We always hope it takes the least amount of time. We have a great understanding of how important child support is to families.”

“For us, every day a parent does not get support is a bad day,” she said.

Although the processes have improved, it still takes time.

Currently, Child Support Enforcement is collecting about 60 percent of child support as it is due and about 62 percent of cases with a delinquency are being collected.

BEYOND THE DEADBEAT

Despite fighting for child support for almost two decades, Heather said she is fortunate compared to other single parents.

She has remarried, owns a business, and has the support, time and resources to keep pushing for what is rightfully and legally hers. But many other single parents cannot afford lawyers or have the means to do the research Heather has.

Through what she has learned in her battle, Heather believes she can help others and is looking to start a non-profit group to assist responsible parents in receiving their owed child support.

She visualizes an organization called “Crimes Against Kids” to offer information, assistance, a support group and, hopefully, one day to lobby to change laws.

“Some people don’t know or understand what is out there,” she said.

An organization is in the works, but Heather is looking for others to aid her cause. A board will need to be formed and volunteers are needed. To contact Heather, mail inquiries to P.O. Box 686, Morris, Ill., 60450, attention: Heather.

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