Slipping through the child support cracks

Deadbeat parents are nothing new. But that's little comfort to custodial mothers and fathers trying to raise families without
JACOB LAMMERS
May 24, 2010

Deadbeat parents are nothing new.

But that's little comfort to custodial mothers and fathers trying to raise families without the help of child support payments.

Jennifer Johnson of Huron said she feels like she's slipping through the cracks.

The mother of two has cared for her 11-year-old daughter and 13-year-old son by herself for 10 years and is waiting to receive nearly $11,000 in back child support.

"I don't need people's pity. I need people to understand that it's not just me going through this," she said. "I understand it's not a violent crime, but they need to find a way to help people who aren't getting child support."

For the last decade, child support cases steadily increased, leaving families in crisis.

Erie County has seen a 24 percent increase in cases from 6,730 in 1996 to 8,365 in 2006. Huron, Ottawa, Sandusky and Seneca counties have also experienced a slight increase in child support cases.

Ohio Child Support programs touch more children than any other program in Ohio except public education, said Becky Bohn, child support enforcement administrator for Sandusky County.

"I anticipate that we are going to continue to see a steady increase in this number," Bohn said.

Bohn said the soaring caseload comes from an increase in the divorce rate, single-parent families and changes in the family unit.

Johnson said her situation steadily worsened after her ex-husband, Daniel Driftmyer of Fostoria, chose not to pay their children's medical bills.

While both children have medical insurance, Driftmyer is responsible for the payment of remaining medical bills. Since he has not paid, Johnson's wages have been garnished by 25 percent to pay the bills, she said.

"I kind of feel like I'm paying off his bills," she said. The child support would "make things easier. Am I surviving without it? Yes."

Though child support cases are increasing, the ability to track and force non-custodial parents to pay has improved, said Karen Balconi Ghezzi, an attorney and administrator for the Erie County Child Support Enforcement Agency.

"I really think it's gotten better primarily because the state government has given us so many more enforcement tools," Balconi Ghezzi said.

Some of those enforcement tools include suspension of professional and driver's licenses, probation and, in extreme cases, jail time.

Ohio is ranked second in the nation in collecting child support, and Erie, Huron, Ottawa and Sandusky counties have either exceeded or met child support collection standards.

Seneca County's collection of current child support has fallen about 66 percent during the past two years because of increasing unemployment rates, said Penny Jacobs-Theis, an administrator with the Sandusky County Child Support Enforcement Agency.

Richard Clinton of Sandusky does not consider himself a deadbeat dad. He said he is trying to do what's right.

Clinton owes about $30,000 in back child support for his 16-year-old daughter and 6-year-old son.

Clinton, a convicted felon who spent 15 years in prison, said nobody wants to hire an ex-con, which makes it difficult for him to get a job and pay off his child support.

"It keeps guys going back to the penitentiary because they can't work," he said. "They're making society like it is."

Balconi Ghezzi said the agency works with ex-cons to get them jobs through The Job Store at the Erie County Job & Family Services.

"We really stress keeping in contact with us," Balconi Ghezzi said. "We work so hard to find employment for people and get them in the right direction."

Clinton said he is not working as he pursues an education at BGSU Firelands in Huron.

Johnson said it's hard for her to feel sorry for her ex-husband, Driftmyer.

"I used to feel sorry for him, but I don't anymore," Johnson said. "He's had plenty of opportunities."

Driftmyer was not available for comment after several attempts were made through his probation officer. Driftmyer was recently indicted by an Ottawa County Grand Jury for criminal non-support, which could carry a maximum penalty of two years.

"He is their father, but being a dad is taking care of them," she said. "He doesn't do anything."

PULLOUT - Number of Child Support Cases, children affected

*Erie County - 8,265 active cases (2006) and 5,816 children affected (2006)

*Huron County - 6,066 active cases and 4,847 children affected

*Ottawa County - 2,610 active cases and 3,389 children affected

*Sandusky County - 5,946 active cases and 8,378 children affected

*Seneca County - 5,292 active cases and 7,439 children affected

*Note - With the exception of Erie County, all information is current through December 2007.

PULLOUT - Highest child support amount owed in each county

*Erie County - $500,000

*Huron County - $100,736.08

*Ottawa County - $99,527.24

*Sandusky County - $130,774.80

*Seneca County - $64,890.47

*Note - Some of the above cases are not current cases, but involve individuals who owe past due child support.

PULLOUT - What happens when non-custodial parents do not pay?

1 - Non-custodial parents are reported to a credit bureau.

2 - The professional and driver's license can be suspended and an individual's U.S passport seized.

3 - Parents can be found in contempt of court for civil non-support, which carries a 30 day jail sentence.

4 - Criminal non-support: a misdemeanor offense carries a 180-day jail sentence and $1,000 fine.

-If a person does not pay six months over the course of two years, they can be convicted of a felony offense and sent to prison for six to 12 months and pay a $2,500 fine.

Note - A custodial parent can forgive the child support debt, which would prevent the non-custodial parent from going to jail.