States' role in child support
Tuesday, June 04, 2013 7:00 PM
Michigan has one of the oldest systems in place for collection child-support payment, going back to 1919.
Erin Frisch, Child Support Director for the Michigan Department of Human Services, says Michigan now has the fourth highest caseload in the nation - but ranks 20th in collecting payments.
"Our peer group (in collections) are Ohio, Illinois, Indiana, Florida, Pennsylvania, New York and California," she said in a telephone interview with the EagleHerald.
As of 1975, states were given the authority to enforce child support payments through federal law - Title IV-D of the Social Security Act: Child Support Enforcement Program.
The biggest reason for more parents falling behind in child support payments in the past few years was the recession, Frisch said.
"They got themselves stuck in a really big hole," she said.
Michigan offers an arrears forgiveness program, where payers could work with the Friend of Court in their counties to establish a new payment schedule, waive interest or remaining arrears owed to the state.
Michigan processes about $1.4 billion in child-support payments every year.
Custodial parents only get paid when payment is made by the noncustodial parent to the state.
"When the payer loses a job, the custodial parents gets hurt, because the money stops," she said.
People who are on public assistance are automatically enrolled in the child support system, which helps them establish paternity and set up payments.
But the state also handles the payments set up through the court system - even if public assistance is not needed.
"In Menominee County, 55 percent of the custodial parents never received public assistance," Frisch said. The average in the state of those in the child-support system, but not on public assistance, is 42 percent, she said, but the Upper Peninsula contributes a lower average than the rest of Michigan.
Some parents will make payments outside of court orders, "but 71 percent of the child support cases in Menominee County have orders and are receiving funds. In 2012, $2,706,510 was collected on behalf of families in Menominee County," she said. "That's just under $600 for a year, per child. That clearly cannot be enough. And there's 30 percent where we are not collecting anything."
Frisch oversees a department of 120 employees, who have daily telephone contact with parents starting cases. While people are often referred to her department from other local and state agencies, anyone seeking child support can call.
"We gather information on conception, marriage, (the noncustodial parent), whether they are working and we put them in touch with the right people," she said. People wanting to apply can call 1-866-540-0008 or go online at www.michigan.gov/dhs and download a form.
"If someone receives public assistance, we'll send them a letter," Frisch said.
Budget cuts have decreased staffing at the local level and in the Office of Child Support, caseworkers have higher caseloads but stay with the same client.
In Wisconsin, The Wisconsin Support Collections Trust Fund pays out more than $3 million each day to custodial parents.
The Child Support Program of the Wisconsin Department of Children & Families helps families by establishing paternity and obtaining and enforcing court orders for child support and medical support.
In 2011, the program provided full case management services to 357,783 families and financial management services to an additional 17,431 families in Wisconsin.
Just as in Michigan, parents become part of the child support program through public assistance or register on their own to start a case.
Case Management Services will help provide the information necessary to help a parent determine custody and receive the necessary help in obtaining a court order for financial or medical help from the other parent.
People who have a case file, either as a payer or a recipient, can track their payments online.
According to the state's website, Wisconsin is a national leader in collection of child support, ranking fourth in 2011 in the percentage of court-ordered support collected.
Information to start a child-support payment claim can be obtained locally or online at http://dcf.wisconsin.gov.
Child support information is available online at www.childsupport.wisconsin.gov.