Millions of dollars in child support go unpaid to many parents in North Carolina. And for those who owe, they’re getting away with not paying.
Three-year-old Aliyah has a full time job. She stays busy keeping colors on the wall and taking care of her baby dolls. And like Aliyah, her mom does it alone.
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“My daughter’s dad, he could walk through the door she wouldn’t even know who he was,” explained Leigh Ann Shore, “and that breaks my heart but there’s nothing I can do.”
Thanks to the Durham Rescue Mission, Leigh Ann has a place to call home.
But raising a daughter on a single income hasn’t been easy.
“When she was a baby I used to call and beg [Aliyah’s father] please bring her just a few diapers, something to help me,” said Shore. His exact words were ‘Take me to court,'” she added.
Aliyah’s father has a court order to pay child support, but Leigh Ann says the money just stopped coming. “I make it work,” she said. “I’m her mother I’m going to make it work but he’s almost $8000 behind right now.”
Shore says that $90 a week can make all the difference.
“Some days I’d look at it and be like oh man, now what am I going to do? [Aliyah] needs shoes, she needs this, she needs that,” Shore said.
But for now, the checks have run out and so have her options.
“I know where he is but I’m not going to go over there,” she said.
So WNCN Investigates decided to go for her.
We met Aliyah’s father, Kenneth James, in his driveway and asked why he hasn’t paid his child support.
“I just started back working so she should be getting it now, said James.
He says he couldn’t pay because he was in between jobs.
“If I’m not working how can I pay? I’m behind in my mortgage,” said James. “I’m doing what I can. When I get paid she gets paid,” he added.
Millions Go Unpaid
It’s not a good situation, but it’s not an uncommon one either.
According to the Federal Office of Child Support Enforcement, $32 billion in child support payments was collected in 2013.
Here’s a statistical breakdown of custodial parents who were eligible for child support in 2013:
- 82% Women
- 79% Age > or = 30
- 57% have just one eligible child
- 68% White
- 25% Black
- 21% Hispanic
- 29% Income below the federal poverty level
WNCN Investigates started looking into how much child support goes unpaid in North Carolina. For the past five years the state’s only collected about 65 percent of the money owed.
According to numbers provided by the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services, almost $815 million dollars in court-ordered child support was due in 2014. That same year, more than $280 million went unpaid.
“A lot of it is because the non-custodial parents don’t have jobs,” explained Mary Flounoy, who runs the child support department for Durham County. She says they’ve collected about 69 percent of the current support that’s due.
“We’re a little bit above the state average,” she said.
A Need For Better Enforcement
Leigh Ann is making ends meet working as a cashier at the Durham Rescue Mission Thrift Store.
As for James, he has a temporary job working on roads. The county is now withholding part of his paycheck until all of the money he owes is paid, including back payments.
“The most money that’s collected in child support is collected with income withholding,” explained Flounoy.
James says he shouldn’t have to pay the payments he’s missed. “There’s not catching up. Not with the job I’ve got,” said James.
“He owes the money. The money is owed in a child support order until the judge says it’s not owed,” explained Flounoy.
The state has a few more tools to collect overdue child support.
“We intercept tax refunds, driver’s license suspension, passport denial, and we also report to the credit bureau,” explained Flounoy.
But even with a court order to pay child support, payments aren’t being made. Flounoy said the problem still goes back to enforcement because of how easy it is for people who don’t want to pay to stay under the radar.
“People call us all the time and say I know he lives at that address but if we can’t get them served, we don’t have a case,” explained Flounoy. Local sheriff’s offices are tasked to carrying out court orders, but Flounoy said since they are civil cases, there isn’t much they can do.
“They go and ring the doorbell and if he or she is not there, that’s the end of that. Unless we can find a new address or new location,” Flounoy said.
Failing Our Children
For some families, child support payments make up about 45 percent of their income, and when it goes unpaid, it’s often public assistance that helps fill the gap.
“It still impacts the tax payer,” said Flounoy. “Food stamps, daycare, all of that, it adds up,” she added.
“Yes I get food stamps and thank goodness for them,” Shore said.
The Federal Office of Child Support Enforcement says about $1.6 billion in child support collected in 2013 reimbursed public assistance dollars.
Leigh Ann’s story is just one in a caseload of thousands.
Flounoy says they never stop looking for parents who don’t pay, and the child support money is even after the child emancipates.
But here’s the reality: It’s a problem that’s often neglected.
“Some of this money we may never collect, that’s being honest,” said Flounoy. She says with millions of dollars unpaid and thousands of children in need, it’s time for a second look, but admits coming up with a solution isn’t easy.
“There are some things we can work on and that is some training programs and some work programs and maybe have it court ordered so people will take is seriously,” said Flounoy.
“They just need to do a better system than what they got,” said Shore “Because it’s not working. It’s not working.”