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700 MS deadbeat parents lose hunting & fishing

spectr17

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February 18, 2003

Thousands lose licenses over unpaid child support

By Riva Brown, Jackson Clarion-Ledger, [email protected]

Roosevelt Guy of Hazlehurst immediately headed to the state's public welfare agency when he got a letter saying his driver's license would be suspended if he didn't pay overdue child support.

Guy, a 40-year-old subcontractor with a courier company, said recently he was $600 behind on payments to his 15-year-old son because he has been in between jobs.

"I think if you may be thousands of dollars behind, but if you're just a few dollars off or a few hundred dollars off, I don't think that's necessary to threaten to suspend your license," said Guy, who recently dropped by the Department of Human Services to pay $130. "This is threatening my livelihood ... all you do is put me in a deadbeat dad status and take away my job."

When the license suspension law went into effect in 1996, the idea was to give parents like Guy an incentive to pay child support on time. However, thousands of parents still don't heed the warning.

Last fiscal year, nearly 5,000 licenses, including about 4,000 for driving and 700 for hunting and fishing, were suspended, according to DHS' Division of Child Support Enforcement. Parents wanting to avoid suspension or have their licenses reinstated paid more more than $340,000 in back child support in fiscal 2002, officials said.

Division Director Alsee McDaniel said the license suspension program helps parents and children collect more money and DHS meet federal performance standards.

"It's more food on the table and being able to take care of the needs of the children for school supplies and whatever other needs they have," McDaniel said. "And depending on increased performances in collections, it can result in additional funds to the state by way of incentives."

Professional and other licenses are subject to suspension when a parent becomes two months behind in making payments, according to DHS. The parent has 90 days to pay up or work out a court-approved payment plan. If the parent fails to do so, the license is suspended.

Parents who dispute license suspensions can appeal to Chancery Court.

Hinds County Chancery Judge Denise Owens said only two people have appealed their suspensions in her court since 1996.

"Normally when they come to Chancery Court, they've been unable to work it out. There is a disagreement over how much is owed or exactly who has custody of the child," Owens said. "But if it's strictly an amount that's owed or there is no dispute about it, that would be worked out at the administrative level with DHS."

Fred Nazary, a major in the enforcement division of the Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks, said parents "call and beg and plead" when their hunting and fishing licenses are suspended.

"Some of them are just on the verge of tears," he said. "That gets their goat more than a huge fine."

Christy Lavinghouse of Columbia likes the license suspension program, although she says her ex-husband hired an attorney to keep his driver's license from being suspended. He owes at least $1,000 to their 9-year-old son, she said.

"I think if they can go hunting and fishing, then they can work and pay their child support," Lavinghouse said. "If they can work and buy a brand-new vehicle and not pay that child support, they don't need to drive that brand-new vehicle."

Donna Fawcett of Ohio said her ex-husband's driver's license was suspended in Gulfport last year but reinstated after he made one payment — the only payment she received in 2002.

"Give him his license back, but keep a check on him every month to make sure he's paying," said Fawcett, who says her ex-husband owes about $35,000 to their two teenage sons and one daughter. "And if he didn't pay the following month or the month after, then go back in and take his license again."

DHS spokeswoman Pamela Confer said the agency does have a follow-up process to notify parents and take action when payments become delinquent after a driver's license has been reinstated.

Confer said there have been incidences where parents have been arrested for driving with a suspended license.

Katie Ingram of Clinton, who says she is owed more than $18,000 in child support for her 16-year-old daughter, said suspending professional licenses is more effective than suspending driver's licenses because doing so directly effects incomes.

"When you're dealing with someone who obviously has character flaws in that they won't support their child, then I doubt they would have an issue of driving with a suspended license," said Ingram, who says her ex-husband kept driving when his license was suspended in Tennessee. "I think that would be an effective measure taken with people with commercial licenses in that their ability to work would be affected in that they don't have that license."

McDaniel recalled a physician paying more than $100,000 in child support to avoid getting his medical license suspended. Other professional licenses subject to suspension include cosmetology and auctioneers, according to DHS.

The agency is working out agreements with other professional licensing agencies to get more suspensions, McDaniel said. In the meantime, licenses are suspended on an individual basis.

"We use all the enforcement tools available just in an effort to get that individual to start paying," McDaniel said.


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Child support license suspension program

Fiscal Year /Suspensions

2002 4,724
2001 3,480
2000 763
1999 1,202
1998 958
1997 7

Source: Mississippi Department of Human Services


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