Readers voice questions, complaints with child support system

BISMARCK – Daniel Nation is counting down the days until he’s done paying child support.

The West Fargo dad said it’s not because he doesn’t want to support his two sons. It’s because he’s tired of dealing with the North Dakota child support system.

“I call up there, and they treat me like the guy who is $100,000 behind and never sees their kids,” said Nation, whose child support obligation ends in May. “I really pity the poor person that’s just getting started on this that’s got 20 years (ahead) of being treated like a slug.”

He isn’t the only one with concerns. Emails poured in with complaints after Forum Communications asked for feedback about the system.

In response, North Dakota Department of Human Services officials say the state has one of the top-performing programs in the country.

“It’s the nature of child support,” Child Support Enforcement Program Director Jim Fleming said of the complaints. “If you have a thin skin, I don’t think you work for this agency.”

Fleming said there are a lot of myths and misunderstandings about the program.

“You’re going to have a given percentage of the customer base that thinks we’re not mean enough, and (others) that think we’re too mean,” he said. “The truth is somewhere in the middle.”

Complaints

A common complaint among readers who wrote in was with how child support payments are determined.

“My husband for one child pays $500 a month, according to the scale, while the father of my child only is ordered to pay $168,” one reader wrote. “I feel that my husband is punished for having a good paying job while others get away with little to nothing.”

“How, in good conscience, can North Dakota allow child support judgments as low as $17 a month for two children?” another wrote.

The chart establishing how much money someone pays in child support is included in the state’s administrative code. Someone earning $100 or less in monthly net income would pay $17 a month for two children. Likewise, someone earning $3,000 a month would pay $846 for two children.

The system is designed to reflect the absence of the parent and provide the child with the same standard of living if the family had remained intact, Fleming said.

“Not to make every situation generous and bountiful,” he said. “It would be nice if we could. That’s not going to always be feasible.”

No one gains by collecting three-fourths of what the child support payer makes, Fleming said. This would push the payer to the breaking point and to hide from the agency, he said.

The amount required is based on a percentage of income and stems from federal figures on the cost of raising children, he said. There are a limited number of reasons courts can use to deviate from these amounts, Fleming said.

Nation, the West Fargo father, would like to see custodial and noncustodial parents’ wages considered when determining child support.

“I would like to see them follow their motto. If you want to make it so the relationship between father and kids and mother and kids is optimal, don’t strap the father so much,” he said.

Other readers were upset about what they see as a lack of child support enforcement.

“My child’s father can go for months not paying a thing, and there seems to be little concern,” a reader wrote. “However if my husband’s work forgets to send a payment, he gets a notice and a threat of court. So they again punish those who pay and don’t punish those who don’t pay. This is beyond messed up.”

Shauna Vistad of West Fargo said she wants to know why the child support division enforces and works hard on only easy cases.

“I understand that they are simply looking to show good numbers, but the reality is the cases that need the most attention are neglected,” she said.

Vistad said she doesn’t know why the program is called “enforcement” and why she’s required to use it if the workers aren’t going to make calls and do work without prompting.

“I feel our child support enforcement unit is doing a horrible job,” she said. “They pick and choose who they want to help based on what is easy.”

Fleming said the same standard is applied to everyone, and the division doesn’t condone delinquency. Some people are easier to find than others, and different cases need different amounts of time, he said.

“It’s not that we aren’t vigilant and watching for it (delinquency),” he said. “There’s going to be a time lag while we track down somebody who is trying to evade their responsibility as opposed to somebody who stays in the same job all the time.”

There are also noncustodial parents without steady employment who find a job until the work runs out and then job hunt again, he said.

“If we pounce too hard or schedule a contempt proceeding too quickly, then (the parent) is spending all of their time going back to court instead of working to earn the wages that can lead to the new payments,” Fleming said.

Other readers questioned why custodial parents aren’t held accountable for how they spend child support money.

Fleming said he often hears this complaint. However, he estimated the average obligation in North Dakota is $300 per month per child. That doesn’t go far with day care, clothes, food and rent, he said.

If detailed accounting was required of the cost to raise the child so the noncustodial parent paid half, the amount would often exceed the payment ordered by the court, he said.

It’s ‘for the kids’

Sen. Judy Lee, R-West Fargo, said lawmakers often hear about child support issues during legislative hearings. Noncustodial parents will say the child support system supports custodial parents and not them, she said.

“It doesn’t support either one of them. Their (the agency’s) legal obligation is to enforce the court order for the kids,” Lee said. “They work for the children, and they get in the middle of all these fights. It’s an ugly place for them to be.”

The program’s regulations are largely set by the federal government and courts determine individual cases, Lee said, but kids get used as weapons against the other parent

“I’m not beating up on all of the wonderful people who are making their payment on time and are still involved with their kids,” Lee said. “There are way more of them than there are those who intentionally don’t pay.”

Sen. Tim Mathern, D-Fargo, said child support is one of the main issues constituents talk to him about. He said concerns are primarily about issues such as visitation and how child support is spent as opposed to complaints against the state enforcement office.

With so many marriages ending in divorce, there needs to be more education to reduce problems that come up in child support disputes, Mathern said. Young people need to be educated about the ongoing obligations if they have children, and couples considering divorce should learn about child support before the marriage ends, he said.

Those marrying someone with children should ask questions about child support obligations so they aren’t taken by surprise later, Mathern said.

Nation of West Fargo said he would like to become an advocate to improve the child support system.

Fleming said the agency never loses sight of the fact that it wants to do better. He said he works in child support because he sees the good the agency does for children.

“You try to do good with all of the parents involved by being fair and reasonable, but you know what you’re really there for is making sure kids get the support they need,” he said.

System facts

E The North Dakota Child Support Enforcement Program serves about 64,100 children and 76,560 parents.

E The division has 164 full-time equivalency positions spread among the main office in Bismarck and eight field offices throughout the state.

E Child support enforcement is designed “to enhance the well-being of children and reduce the demands on public treasuries by securing child support and medical support from legally responsible parents and by encouraging positive relationships between children and their parents.”

E In 2010, total child support collections reached a record $129 million.

E Three-fourths of parents in the system pay on time and in full, Director Jim Fleming said. About 18,000 are behind in payments worth nearly $225 million.

E Child support enforcement services include finding parents, establishing paternity, establishing child support and medical support obligations, enforcing child support and medical support obligations, and reviewing and adjusting obligations.

E After the courts assign custody of children, what generally happens is the parent with primary responsibility will ask for child support, Fleming said. The child support division shares a computer system with clerks of courts so the amount of child support entered by the court is known, he said.

E Once the data is in the system, the division begins to enforce it, he said. The agency also receives referrals from public assistance programs so, if a parent receives state assistance, the state will look at establishing child support from the other parent if there’s not an order already.

E The division reviews cases every three years, but looks at cases sooner if it is notified of a material income change, Fleming said.

—————

Here are additional child support questions from readers that North Dakota Child Support Enforcement Program Director Jim Fleming answered.

Reader concern: Why do we lose our driver’s license if we are behind? When we need it for a job to pay it off?

The child support division is designed to use tools that encourage parents to honor their court order, Fleming said. The license suspension helps get parents to pay or to call and negotiate a payment plan, he said.

A parent needs to be two months or $2,000 behind in child support, whichever is less, for a driver’s license suspension, he said. Another effective tool is issuing a notice of intent to suspend hunting and fishing licenses for falling behind in child support, Fleming said.

Reader concern: My ex-husband’s last employer was delinquent of sending the money to the state and was withholding it from his check. Can they fine these employers?

By law, all child support obligations are subject to immediate income withholding, Fleming said. Like taxes, this money is withheld from employees’ paychecks. The division then processes it, applies the money to the obligation and then disperses the money.

This way, there isn’t room for doubt about whether someone paid or didn’t if a third party maintains the payment records, he said.

Employers may inadvertently miss a payment and may need a reminder, he said. Late fees can be imposed on employers, but most complaints from the custodial parent against businesses turn out to be inaccurate, Fleming said. For example, the custodial parent may be unaware the child’s other parent took time off without pay, he said.

Reader concern: My ex-husband is now over $6,000 in the hole again, and I hear nothing about how they are going to retrieve this.

If there’s a willful failure to pay, prosecutors can charge the parent, Fleming said. He would like to see more prosecutions but said time constraints on prosecutors make this difficult. The agency can intercept tax refunds to apply toward overdue child support.

Contempt of court proceedings are a component of what the agency does when a parent isn’t paying child support. Fleming said the division started a program a few years ago to connect these parents with a Job Service employee. If a parent says he or she can’t find work, the parent must meet with Job Service to receive help.

He’s seen cases where this dramatically improved the relationship between the two parents.

If the agency can’t find a parent who owes child support for three years, the case is considered closed. However, the case can be reopened and enforced at any time, Fleming said.

“We have obligors that we will find or catch up to when they start to receive Social Security payments,” he said.

Reader concern: Any past contact with the child support agency in North Dakota has been frustrating at best. The personnel were mostly rude, evasive and not very helpful. Every time I spoke with a representative, I was left with the feeling that they assumed I was a deadbeat and deserved to be treated as such.

Fleming doesn’t like the word “deadbeat” used in connection with child support.

“We want to be a lot more productive and constructive with our customers than to call them names,” he said.

Fleming said customers who believe they received bad service can ask to speak to the employee’s supervisor.

“The reality is that sometimes they will hear answers from us that they don’t like and that translates into being rude or unprofessional when really they’re very professional about it,” Fleming said.

Reader concern: Why does a noncustodial parent have to pay child support when the custodial refuses to allow any visitation?

The Child Support Enforcement Program is not authorized to enforce visitation, Fleming said. That needs to be handled through the legal system.

Fleming said two wrongs don’t make a right when a noncustodial parent refuses to pay child support because the custodial parent refuses to allow visitation.

“Monthly child support doesn’t belong to the custodial parent. It belongs to the kid,” he said.

20 thoughts on “Readers voice questions, complaints with child support system

  1. I am a Dad of three boys, and my oldest (14yrs) I now have full custody of and the mother is now ordered to pay me. I’m obviously happy with that order, but I’ve had him for two years almost and i’ve just stopped paying current child support on him a few months ago. So my complaint is, why should I have to pay her child support for the past two years, when he has been in my care/ and custody????? Does that sound fair ??? This is something i plan to bring to media attention and something I plan to fight whole heartedly.

  2. And Please, whatever you do,… dont believe a breath that comes out of that flemings mouth, because child support IS NOT set-up to go toward the children,….. everyone knows that its for theyre Mommys !!!! My opinion is, they came up with the “ENFORCEMENT” program to try and take some of the financial strain off of the welfare programs, …. It doesnt look like that plan worked for them cause our Economy is sunk, and Welfare is the primary blame. Heres an example of what I mean, I know a girl right now that gets $500.00 a month in food stamps, she pays $110.00 a month for a 3 bedroom 2 bathroom doulble stall attached garage Town home,(because she is on housing), She pays very little for her Electric, ( 16 bucks for December, I know cause she was bragging about it to me,) and she doesnt have to pay for water there. and she still recieves $538.00 a month in child support. So, it only costs her $110.00 a month to give those kids what they need. Not too bad concidering she hasnt worked in close to 2yrs. Where the Dad on the other hand is working and pays taxes, which pay for her welfare, and still has to pay child support.
    ????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????
    Does that sound fair????

  3. None of this is fair. I lost my job and am paying my ex $500 a month. I had to pay this amount with no job. I can’t pay it anymore and don’t get me wrong I want to pay it but I plain can’t I have 2 other children in my custody that I am providing for and on top of that $500 for my ex to sit on his ass and do nothing while he collects money from his damn oil wells BULLSHIT!!!! The system is corrupt explain to me how your suppose to pay all your bills plus that with any job you need a job that pays you at least 25 an hour but then your child support goes up so your screwed either way.

  4. Well this has been going on for 30yrs.I have had a lawyer and he has done nothing but took money and never filed for the motions.But it is sad when the children have been adopted when the oldest one was 5 or 6 yrs of age,and I am still getting my checking account drained.I have the adoption papers and so did the lawyer but alot of good that did.I am at my wits end these children were adopted and I found out in 2009 and took papers to lawyer and told the mahoning county csea.but that didnt do nething.So now they just informed me that they got my checking again thanks for that i am now going to be with all the checks out paying bills and no money and no home for my family.. I just don’t know whom to talk to are what to do they were adopted in 1989 and they have been taking everything i have no matter what proof i have this just don’t seem right and i am about to lose it.I understand the meaning of child support and i am all for it but it should be fair Kids were adopted she pursued to keep getting help even though the kids were adopted and she knew this but I am the one who is getting my life turned upside down and she is in court under oath where is the justice in this forgery,purgery and i could go on .I am just asking for help I don’t know what else to do just need some answers….

  5. Who ever said child support is for the mommies is so right!!! my fiance’s ex wife said we could keep their 3 kids if she can stay on child support. and she started to complain about only getting around 600 a month for child support, when she hardly pays rent, gets food stamps, cash assistance, housing, ect…she goes out drinking, slaps the kids around (5,7,and almost 8) in the face, they are in school during the day, daycare for most of the night. she is always finding a new guy to bring around, the 8 year old claimed “mommy has so many boyfriends cause she’s trying to find us a new home” of course what a child say isnt good enough proof of whats going on and thats why we dont have the children at this time. she is a poor excuse of a mom, who is just after the child support and will do anything to make my fiance look like the bad guy. we have a child together and he is amazing with her, (NOT a deadbeat dad what-so-ever!!) MN and ND child support needs to get their heads out of their asses and realize who really is a good parent. she has had atleast ten boyfriends in the two years i’ve been with my fiance. its gross, and not good for the kids. they are so used to seeing strangers they will literally go walking with them if they start talking to them. (i know cause they did that when they were here playing outside!) its scary knowing she’s bringing so many different guys around them. but shes smart and gets away with everything!! just pathetic…..

    • oh i forgot to add….will all her assistance she’s getting, she doesnt have gas money to get home if she picks them up here, and cant buy the kids new clothes. thrift store clothes are pretty cheap yet she can’t afford that? really? its stupid and pathetic, my fiance works his butt off and hardly gets a paycheck from that “woman”

  6. I live in memphis tn,and the childsupport services here are awful.the judges here are a mess everyone just get a check and don’t care if the women never get a dime.i only receive $40- on down from the farther of my two children he goes threw the system as if he knows somebody that works there.its not fair to the kids at all and I’m ready to go to the media for help answers or whatever need to be done about the sorry ass people here in memphis,tn when it comes to kids ,……..tired

  7. The men here just go threw the system like it ant nothing and its ashame tired of court dates why go to court and they don’t do shit don’t understand at all they full of lies and never know what’s going on I’m bout to involve the president in this matter and pray about it cause I’m just tired.from the judges,to the childsupport office all of them need to be fired….they ant no good for the women or the kids……….anytime you go to,jail and was court ordered to pay and get out and don’t pay shit….there is something wrong with the pictures here inMemphis,tn.Memphis is the Worst place when it comes to getting childsupport for a child the worst system ever,the worst judges ever the worst people ever and may God have mercy on them all

  8. My fiance got custody of his daughter 2 years ago and we have been fighting with child support that long as well. First it was because they were still collecting from him but swore the money was being held and not given to the mom until we received the final court order for primary residential responsibility. Now, we have gone to court twice.. first time “mom” didn’t show up, second time her ride bailed on her. She flat out said she shouldn’t have to pay child support and she couldn’t afford the measley 238 even tho she lives with her mommy and her oil rig worker boyfriend (whom is more important than her child) pays for everything. She’s constantly changing jobs because as soon as she see’s those papers come in for income withholding she’s gone. They’ve told her she will have to serve jail time if she continues to not pay… well we still haven’t recieved a dime and she’s still out partying (and by the way she hasn’t seen her kid in a year!). My fiance and I are the ones doing all the investigating.. finding her place of employment, new home addresses.. and they still don’t do a damn thing. They don’t even call us back when we call to inquire about our case. Child support is bias against men, and it’s a bunch of bullsh*t. When my fiance was ordered to pay child support they were constantly harassing him with court and jail time if his payments were late.

    • I don’t know if it’s men, I have had the same experience as a woman. It’s likely because we receive “low dollar” payments that don’t help their federal stats and are not, have never been on, public assistance to recoup, which also helps their stats. That’s all they care about. ND was a federal welfare case for so long, it’s inherent in their culture. It’s why that less than brilliant man above in this piece is incapable of giving a “real” answer.

  9. Child support continued to collect child support for my son after he turned 18, it totaled about $5000 and when I went to court for wage review the judge awarded my the money back. Local child support decreased my support till it was mostly paid back then the Bismarck support decided to violate the order and making me pay the money back. This makes me in arrears and damaged my credit. Now I am out the $5000 for court costs and $5000 for overpayment on child support. I have repeatedly sent them requests asking how they can violate the court order and why they never contact me on changes. Now I have to try and explain to my employer I am not a dead beat father. It is worse than the IRS, more like ghestapo organization, I would wipe it clean and start over. I supported the last law change proposal, think we need to get it on the ballot again.

  10. Hi I have been trying to get child support have gone to county and nothing I’m better off quitting my job and going on welfare I would receive more help.
    they have done nothing to help I have a debit card issued from a bank but nothing is being done as far as getting any help from my ex it has gone to the judge he has signed off as of Nov 2013 and still nothing. Fustrated!!!!

  11. My son meet a girl in college had a son (now 7). They planned to get married. He caught her cheating broke off the engagement, tried to work though it with her but she did not want nothing to do with him. He has no criminal record, not even a speeding ticket! Holds down a very good job (position). They worked out visitation, and child support, out of the court. She decided she wanted more turned it into child support (she actually got less) Now she is married, has a good job, her new spouse has a good job. My son is struggling to make ends meet and the court just raised his support payment again! He is paying her almost $700/month. She and new husband drive brand new cars, go on many trips and vacations, living a high life. My son drives an old pickup and has to rent a cheap place. How is that a fair system. You cannot tell me that it costs $700/ month for my grandson to live with them!!

    • I am a single mother of 2 boys. Their father is supposed to pay $328 per month. He is 48. I have supported them on my own. Without public assistance since 2008. He is not hiding. He sees them regularly. He has his license, is not in contempt and has paid $35 in the last year and a half.

      Had your son done that, he would have no license, been in and out of jail, etc., etc.

      That bullshit answer above “each case is different” does not explain discrepancies in both amounts and enforcement like these.

      I apologize for our crappy State since CSE is too arrogant to do the right thing, your son is being punished for being honest, hard working and likely a very good father. He should be commended, it’s guys like him that deserve the breaks, but CSE wastes them on deadbeats that lie, cheat &!deceive because they are too…something to figure it out and follow it up.

  12. How is it that an obligor can have lower household income than the custodial parent that sees the child the same amount of time. This is not only unfair to the obligor, but also to the obligor’s household. It is also ridiculous that nothing is done without court proceedings. Maybe the custodial parent should be reviewed as unfairly as the noncustodial parent.

  13. I have received $35 in child support since June of 2013. This man has a license. He is not under order of contempt. He is not hiding. He works under the table, so his support is as low as possible. I just received a notice they are waiving interest to encourage payments. Apparently they missed incentives day in Econ 101. He sees the kids every other weekend. I have never withheld visitation. He does not contribute to them financially any other way. My case is in the Fargo office. Citizens of other states can hardly believe this. Hard working, paying non custodial parents of this state are appalled. The previous comments were dead on:

    1. It is all about the federal numbers, CSE, DHSEO in general for that matter, it is all they care about, read their annual report. It sounds like they manufacture airplanes, not help people.

    2. Not a single one of those people has customer service skills. They are condescending, disingenuous, lazy, retaliatory, judgmental, unknowledgeable and quite frankly, seemingly quite incompetent. I in one of the most hated positions in this country, my arch enemies would give me kudos compared to these yahoos.

    This system is broken and corrupt, just like the rest of ND govt.

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