50 Percent of Franklin County Parents Behind on Child Support

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With Ohio unemployment still at nearly 10 percent and job growth slow at best, the bills are piling up for those looking for work. For some, a big bill is their child support payment. And as the economy struggles many struggle to make the payments. WOSU reports judges and county officials are showing leniency for those truly facing hard times.

Julius McIntyre will be 36 years old tomorrow. Just yesterday he thought he might spend his birthday in the Franklin County Jail. McIntyre’s behind on his child support very behind more than $20,000 behind in payments for one of his four children.

McIntyre faced a 15-day jail sentence when appeared before Franklin County Judge Dana Preisse. The attorney for the child support enforcement agency adamantly pushed for him to serve at least some of that time. But McIntyre walked away the case closed.

In Preisse’s words “[he] is doing more than most” so she saw no need to impose jail time.

“He is currently working a full-time job. It’s the third shift, and he has even two other young children that he has full custody of. And he’s going to school. So this is an individual who’s not thumbing his nose at the court,” Preisse said.

McIntyre has been working in a Wal-Mart distribution center for about two weeks now. It’s the first full-time job he’s had in more than a year. The economy is partly to blame. But compound that with having to check the little box on a job application that says “yes, I have a felony,” getting work is nearly impossible.

“I’ve got stacks and stacks of denials from places like even Auto Zone, just the smallest [places], gas stations. I can’t even work for a cleaning service to clean a toilet. How skilled do you have to be to do that? They just shun be off. And basically I just have to keep looking, keep looking and keep looking,” McIntyre said.

McIntyre has made some payments over the past three years. He had a seasonal job last year. But part-time and temporary work is not enough to put a dent in his back child support. Government assistance, McIntyre said, can pay more than a low-wage job.

“So if I make $8 an hour, if I work 40 hours a week, that’s $340. Child support say, hey, I need $250 of that. So they’ll take their $250 and leave me the scraps. Typically in a situation like this, and I’ll admit I’ve done it, because it start being un-beneficial, so I quit,” he said.

So McIntyre has leaned on a welfare check, food stamps, day care assistance and Medicaid.

Judge Preisse said McIntyre’s story has become increasingly common over the past few years.

“It used to be say, 12, 14 years ago, when I started, when unemployment was say four percent, and maybe two percent in southern Delaware County, that you could look at a person and say look, you can get a job somewhere.’ And now that the unemployment rate is much higher I think it’s more reasonable that they truly can’t find a job,” Preisse said.

Franklin County collected $2.8 million in child support from unemployment checks in 2008. A year later, that number skyrocketed to $7.4 million. And at the rate it’s going, 2010′s collections will surpass last year’s total.

“People are being laid off. We’re getting notices all the time,” Franklin County Child Support Enforcement Manager Bill Peltcs said.

Peltcs said requests to reduce payments have increased over the past few years.

The agency reports about half of Franklin County parents making support payments are behind. Peltcs said the worst thing someone can do is to avoid the agency altogether when they fall behind.

“You’re unemployed, you’ve got a lot of things on your mind, and we do understand that. But contact us. Let us know what’s going on so we can work with you,” he said.

But if nothing is done the county can suspend driver’s licenses, tack on fines and interest or even impose jail time.

Back at the Franklin County Court House, Julius McIntyre said he’s thankful he’ll be able to take his upcoming finals at Columbus State Community College rather than spend time in jail. He’s taking mechanics courses and he hopes with a degree he’ll be able to better meet his child support obligations. When his children ask for a pair of sneakers he can’t afford, he asks them for patience.

“I believe I’m headed in the right direction, as long as I stay focused, as long as I don’t stop going to school. I believe my kids will definitely prosper out of what I’m doing,” McIntyre said.

While McIntyre’s case is closed at this time, he faces more serious jail time if payments slip again.