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DCSS Watches South Carolina County Unpaid Child Support Program

An Aiken County, South Carolina, child support enforcement program initiated in 2008 has helped the Aiken County Sheriff's Office and courts close more than 2,000 warrants in the past two years. The "deadbeat dad" project targets fathers who owe more than $20,000 in unpaid child support.

More than 40 men remain on the list. In the latest initiative, the Sheriff's Office has targeted 10 mothers owing more than $15,000 in child support payments.

The success of the program has been noted by the Georgia's Division of Child Support Services (DCSS). The agency handles child support enforcement cases in all Georgia counties and notes that the Aiken County program is simpler and more effective than the Georgia DCSS's statewide "most wanted" lists.

"In the last few months we have taken note of the process in Aiken County and are currently doing some research for possible implementation," said DCSS deputy director Renorta Heard. "But we want to make sure it's something we can do statewide and not just in isolated counties.

According to Sandra Jarrett of DCSS, more than 3,000 child support cases are considered outstanding in Richmond, Columbia and Burke counties alone. She notes, however, that not all of those cases involve parents who are substantially behind on their child support.

In the period from June to August, Richmond, Columbia and Burke counties issued only 126 arrest warrants in child support cases, but most of them have already been resolved, according to Jarrett.

Tough Economy Makes It Even More Vital to Collect Unpaid Child Support

The South Carolina county decided to continue their "deadbeat dads" program for a second year because several child support cases had reached a point where the parent owed thousands of dollars.

Beth Willis, Aiken County's chief deputy clerk, attributes much of that to the economy, but Sheriff's Office lieutenant Larry Schrade, who runs the program, says it's hard to believe that most of the non-payers are simply down on their luck.

"Folks are having tough times for whatever reason, but I think in reality most of them know, especially when we get up to the numbers we've been releasing lately," he said. "I can't imagine how someone can incur $20,000 and say they didn't know."

Parents who come forward and admit they're having trouble making their child support payments can be referred to community resources to help them get back on track.

"We're very fortunate that many of these parents do come in and try to find a way to pay even a little bit," says the DCSS's Jarrett. "And many that aren't coming in are afraid of being arrested by just coming into our offices. That isn't the case; this isn't the courthouse."

Six parents have come forward to settle their cases in Aiken County since the program began, according to Schrade.

Nevertheless, living in a border county presents those who don't want to pay their child support with an easy escape route.

"People will move to Augusta and know we can't do anything, so we just have to wait for them to come back to South Carolina," Schrade said.

Of the 12,000 outstanding warrants in Aiken County, 1,183 are Family Court bench warrants, according to Schrade. Most of those involve unpaid child support.

As for the threshold for calling someone a "deadbeat dad"?

"There's no real definition, but we coined that term when targeting parents that are not taking care of their moral responsibility," Schrade said.

Source: The Augusta Chronicle, "Pursuit of 'deadbeats' is paying off," Julia Sellers, October 5, 2010

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