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Child support: More than $1.7 billion owed in Arizona

Non-custodial parents in Arizona are $1.7 billion in debt for child support arrears. Recent investigations discovered flaws in Arizona's system for collecting child support from non-custodial parents. The head of the state agency with the daunting task of helping custodial parents collect unpaid child support admits the process is not working up to its potential. There are approximately 144,000 cases in Arizona with delinquent or unpaid child support.

One custodial mother has been fighting in court to collect child support with no good fortune since 2007. The process is slow. In this case, the non-custodial father claims that he cannot pay what he does not have. Many non-custodial parents experiencing job loss have abandoned the will to pay or get caught up on what they owe their children.

Tax dollars have helped many financially strapped custodial parents to make ends meet. According to reports from Child Support Enforcement, 60 to 70 percent of parents who are owed child support are current or former recipients of public assistance services. Custodial parents trying to make it on little or no income sometimes have no choice but to turn to the government for financial assistance. In many cases, custodial parents find that simple items such as clothes, shoes, and holiday gifts aren't affordable.

Child support guidelines provide for eventual arrests when the money is not paid; however, prerequisite court procedures often take months if not years. Lack of resources, time restraints, and inaccurate addresses leave many cases seemingly untouchable resulting in many courts throughout Arizona becoming saturated with outstanding arrest warrants. Custodial parents may help by providing address information, which can make a significant difference when it comes to making arrests.

Arizona's state legislature has the power to create tougher laws for collecting child support money, but in 2012's legislative sessions three new bills were not introduced, reportedly due to a "lack of interest" by the state representative appointed to the position. The Department of Economic Security is working to improve the system by exploring new collections tools. While some parents feel that lawmakers need to do more, it is also true that many non-custodial parents simply do not have the money owed and may benefit by petitioning a court for downward modification of their child support obligation based upon a showing of a substantial change in circumstances.

Source: ABC 15 News, "AZ's deadbeat parent problem a "statewide outrage;" More than $1.7 billion owed," Lori Jane Gilha, April 26, 2012

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