Division ensures late child support payments made

In the nearly five years since an investigator began working to track down people who are months behind on child support payments, he has been sitting in front of homes for hours and scouring social media and databases to find those who haven’t paid.

Those efforts have led to the arrest of about 350 parents who have failed to make their court-mandated child support payments with the county collecting around $7 million a year. That money gets returned to parents to pay their bills and provide for their kids.

The Johnson County Prosecutor’s Office has a separate division with 11 full-time employees whose sole job is to make sure child support payments are being made to the single parents who are in desperate need of the money, deputy prosecutor Lori Prince said.

“Child support is very essential to child’s well-being and survival,” she said.

For single parents, those payments can be the difference of whether they are able to pay their bills or buy Christmas presents for their children, Prince said.

Through October, her office has collected about $5 million in overdue support, and is on track to end up with $7 million by the end of December, which has been around the amount they’ve collected each year for the past decade, she said.

Prince’s office still is working to track down more than $18 million in overdue child support payments, an amount that has remained steady the past several years, she said. Despite their work to track down parents behind on their support, the list of those who have overdue payments is continually growing, Prince said.

When he was first hired in 2013 as an investigator, Troy DeHart said his goal was to average one arrest a week, something he has exceeded each of the past five years. During his first year, DeHart had arrested about the same amount of Johnson County residents as those from elsewhere in Indiana. Now, the majority of people he tracks down live elsewhere in the state, he said.

Tracking down people who have moved outside of the state poses additional challenges, including having to wait until the missed payments add up to enough for a felony charge — an amount in the thousands, DeHart said.

DeHart has about 100 people that he is currently in the process of trying to track down that have warrants out for their arrest, he said. While DeHart tracks down people himself and has the authority to make arrests, he always works with local authorities to make the arrests, he said.

When someone is arrested, the money they post as bail can go toward their unpaid child support payments. An arrest also sends the message that the county is serious about getting these payments made, Prince said.

Officials can work to set up a payment plan where someone pays a lump sum toward part of the overdue payments and then agrees on a rate for further payments, she said. Prince also can request someone’s driver’s license be suspended if payments aren’t being made.

But officials also make every attempt to resolve issues of unpaid support without relying on filing civil or criminal charges, Prince said. Parents who owe child support can argue against paying or for paying a smaller amount if they are in jail, medically unable to work or in a rehabilitation facility, she said.

Prince strongly recommends that anyone who owes child support make the payments through the county, which protects both sides and provides documentation of the payments. In cases where a parent is providing financial assistance, such as paying rent or bills, that may not be able to be officially counted toward their required child support requirements even if that is the intent of those payments, Prince said.

By the numbers

Here is a look at the work the county is doing to collect overdue child support for local families:

Total amount collected

2013: $7 million

2014: $7.2 million

2015: $7.2 million

2016:  $7 million

2017: (through Oct. 31): $5 million

Arrests for unpaid child support

2013: 67

2014: 79

2015: 84

2016: 62

2017: (through Nov. 13) 57

SOURCE: Johnson County Prosecutor’s Office

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Jacob Tellers is a reporter at the Daily Journal. He can be reached at jtellers@dailyjournal.net or 317-736-2702.