Judge, family law professor offer solutions for state's $2.3 billion child support problem

Community responds following Call 6 Investigation

INDIANAPOLIS - A child support judge and an IU McKinney School of Law family law professor are offering solutions in light of a Call 6 Investigation that exposed the state's child support problem.

"The one thing I want people to know about child support is, it's for the child. It's not for the custodial parent," said Judge Sheryl Lynch, who handles cases for the Marion County Circuit Court Paternity Division. "The perspective people often see, is, 'Oh this parent is taking the money, getting their hair done, getting their nails done.' The system doesn't track how you're spending the money."

Hoosier parents owe more than $2.3 billion in child support, according to the Indiana Department of Child Services and Child Support Bureau, which handles 350,000 cases.

Lynch said the solution is not just parents stepping up, but family and friends also helping support the child.

"I really wish everyone would start paying child support, and I'd be willing to not have a job," said Lynch.

State and local agencies spend $83.2 million in a fiscal year on the child support problem, including finding noncustodial parents, prosecuting cases, establishing child support orders and processing payments.

Lynch said she hears every excuse under the sun, the most common being 'I don't have a job.'

"There are some days you just want to sit there and you just want to cry because it's very sad with all the reasons people will not support their children," said Lynch. "For example, (one man said) his girlfriend was on bed rest and he had to take care of her, and the girlfriend was not the mother of the child."

The Call 6 Investigators heard the excuse 'I'm not that far behind' from dead beat parents.

"Judges don't look at the amount you're behind," said Lynch. "It's the fact that you're not paying, and someone who is $3,000 behind we need to be aggressive with because we don't want you to get $30,000 behind."

Lynch and other judges handle so many cases, their cabinets are literally overflowing.

"The whole system is short on resources," said Lynch. "We need an extra judicial officer and we hope that will happen soon because there are too many cases."

IU McKinney family law professor Jennifer Drobac said another solution is for the courts to get dead beat parents more involved.

"Often you see this problem arise because the parents aren't invested in their children," said Drobac. "They don't know their children. They don't have custody of their children. They don't have visitation of their children."

Drobac was shocked to learn Hoosier parents owe $2.3 billion in child support and said the state can do better.

"When you have that many billions of dollars uncollected, I don't think we're doing well," said Drobac. "I don't think we're doing well for children."

Drobac said the child support problem is also greatly impacted by the economy.

"There are a lot of people that have lost jobs in Indiana," said Drobac. "They may want to pay child support, but you can't get blood out of a turnip."

The Indiana Department of Child Services Child Support Bureau points to new numbers just released from the federal government that show improvement from 2010 to 2012.

In federal fiscal year 2010, 64 percent of all state cases had a payment made toward child support arrears.

The latest for federal fiscal year 2012 report puts Indiana at 68 percent, officials said.

"That's a pretty significant improvement," said Stephanie McFarland, spokesperson for DCS.


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