'What If He Doesn't Pay Child Support?'

Local law enforcement, private collection agencies crack down on indigent parents

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When a pair of new blue jeans costs $12 and sweat pants are $3, it is an easy bet what a single parent chooses when the custodial parent does not pay child support.

"I never knew that was why you always bought me sweat pants," 19-year-old, blue jean clad John Michaels said to his mother as they shared a laugh over times that were arguably rougher for her than him.

Michaels was 2 years old when his parents got divorced.

His biological father did not pay the court-ordered child support.

Between kindergarten and fourth grade, Lucinda Simmons was the sole provider for the family.

Rather than be "angry and bitter," she moved to Arizona and concentrated her emotional energy on raising her son.

At that time, compared to California, the cost of living was affordable and she could get creative and make ends meet.

"I'm a lousy salesman, but one year I sold Discovery Toys because I knew I would be able to keep the toys for John at Christmas," Simmons said.

"I remember that was a good year," Michaels said.

His mom remarried when he was 10 years old and things got easier. There was money to purchase school supplies, and presents for birthdays and Christmas.

"But that is not the norm for most single moms with no support," Simmons said. "I was blessed."

Then, in 2005, her son spent his first year as a student at Coconino Community College working two jobs.

It was a frustrating situation until Michaels' friend told him and his mother about Supportkids, Inc.

Supportkids is a private child support collection agency that finds fathers and negotiates a settlement.

Simmons and Michaels decided together it was worth trying to find his biological father and collect the owed support to pay for his college expenses. The unpaid support now totaled over $109,000 with interest and penalties.

"Until then, it was easier for me to assume (my ex-husband) was dead -- out of sight, out of mind," Simmons said.

When she found out he was still living in the same town she had to move from because she couldn't afford the rents, she had to confront the years of abandonment all at once.

Court was an option but not one Simmons wanted to pursue.

The lump sum settlement Supportkids negotiated was considerably less than the thousands owed, and Supportkids took 34 percent of that amount as their fee.

"It was worth it," Simmons cheered. "John can continue his education."

"Out of sight, out of mind" is a common emotional condition the team of Supportkids finds noncustodial parents living in, said the company's vice president, Vanessa Diaz.

"A lot of times the years have gone by and the guilt has snowballed and the (noncustodial parent) finds it hard to rehash the past," Diaz said.

Others may be creative in their avoidance of jobs.

The company receives over 8,000 applications a month, has a 70 percent success rate in locating the noncustodial parent and is able to negotiate a settlement 40 to 50 percent of the time, Diaz said.

"The type of custodial parent who comes to us is one who has not received support in many years and has tried though government agencies to get help," Diaz said.

"These are often parents who are working two jobs to support their kids. So, when they see (the Supportkids) option it gives them a ray of hope of having child support collected once and for all."

The collection may be a lump sum, a wage garnishment or perhaps a monthly check. If the noncustodial parent goes back on the agreement, Supportkids keeps going after him (or her).

Most states allow a person to use the services of a private agency to collect child support and Arizona is one of them.

In Gila County, nine custodial parents will not have to take the steps Simmons took as a result of a child support warrant roundup conducted by the Gila County Sheriff's Office.

"I am happy we got (nine) but I wish we had found more," said Ramai Jarles, an attorney with Gila County.

This is the first such roundup Gila County has conducted and Jarles said it is being evaluated for success.

Bond amounts for the nine people arrested totaled $6,417.13 and represent from one to six months of child support payments in arrears.

In the last couple of months, Jarles said Gila County has extradited two people on criminal warrants for nonpayment of child support.

"Our office takes child support very serious and and we try to be very aggressive staying on top of our cases," Jarles said.

In cases where a criminal warrant has been issued, input from the custodial parent is considered and probation can be the sentence rather than serving jail time, according to Jarles.

"Gila County has the highest collection rate in the state," Diaz said.

To contact child support enforcement in Gila County, visit www.co.gila.az.us or call (928) 425-4464.

To contact Supportkids, visit www.supportkids.com or call (800) 691-KIDS.

-- To reach Carol La Valley call 474-5251 ext. 122 or e-mail clavalley@payson.com.

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