August 24th, 2012 by Robert Franklin, Esq.
Long ago and far away there was a land in which non-custodial fathers paid child support directly to the custodial mother. The state wasn’t involved unless Mom complained to the court that Dad hadn’t paid. Typically Dad would come to the hearing to try to explain. Those hearings were often long and confusing. Dad said he’d paid, but hadn’t brought the cancelled check. Or he said he hadn’t paid everything he owed because he’d lost his job or that he’d given the kids gifts or that he’d paid their insurance instead of child support. The courts were left to sort that out and often it wasn’t easy to figure out who was lying and who was telling the truth.
Enter, Big Brother. With the astonishing increase in divorces in the 1970s, child support collection, disbursement and accounting became a function of government instead of a parental one. The promise was to make the system more efficient, more reliable and more certain. There would always be a record of what had been paid into the system and what had been disbursed. There’d be no more coming to court and saying “judge, I didn’t bring my records, my cancelled checks, etc.”
Of course by now, the problems of the government-run system are all too apparent. Chief among them is the fact that the federal government transfers huge sums to the states for things like establishing paternity and child support collections. Where there’s money to be had – big money – there’s bound to be corruption. ’Twas ever thus. So when it comes to establishing child support, state attorneys general stoop to just about anything to make sure some adult male gets identified as the child’s father. To them it really doesn’t matter if it’s the right guy or not. The system of railroading men into financial responsibility for children can be so arbitrary that I’ve wondered before whether it wouldn’t be easier just to assign children fathers at random. It’s a tongue-in-cheek way of pointing out that since those attorney generals don’t care who they tag as the dad, why not make it easier and cheaper on everyone?
The child support system has far more problems than I can begin to address here, but one that I’ve never mentioned is fraud. Governmental employees in a position to do so simply steal from the child support funds far more often than you might expect. There’s one Melanie Sparks of Gaffney, South Carolina, who made off with $60,000 in child support money. Read about it here (Sacramento Bee, 8/22/12).
Prosecutors say Sparks worked as a deputy clerk in the child support section of the Cherokee County clerk’s office and took money from cash receipts. An audit showed that more than $60,000 missing from the office between January 2008 and November 2009.
“inappropriately accessed the ACS computer system, obtained client information and either (1) fraudulently shared that information with other associated defendants so that these other defendants could call in, impersonate child support recipients, and change the address to which debit cards were sent, or (2) fraudulently sent other debit cards themselves to addresses of their choosing.
After taking possession of the cards sent to addresses in San Antonio, various defendants would activate the cards and begin obtaining money in the respective child support accounts. As a result of these separate but similar schemes, the indicted defendants were involved in fraudulently obtaining more than $275,000.00 in child support funds. ACS has reimbursed the individual child support debit cardholders for the losses suffered as a result of the actions of the defendants in this case.”