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License Threat Promotes Child Support

June 28, 2002

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The threat of losing the chance to shoot a moose persuaded one dad in Maine to pay $32,000 in overdue child support. Taking away licenses to drive raked in millions of dollars for kids in Virginia and Maryland.

State officials exasperated by parents perpetually behind on child support payments have found that suspending licenses to drive, hunt, fish and work has helped get deadbeats to pay up.

Louisiana officials, saying judges were not ordering enough suspensions, changed state law this year. Now, the Department of Social Services can order various state agencies, like the Office of Motor Vehicles, to suspend licenses if parents have not paid child support for 90 days.

``I don’t think these people really think you mean business,″ said state Rep. Warren Triche, sponsor of the law. ``It’s time they start paying.″

Every state has some type of license suspension for parents who fall behind in child support, according to Kay Cullen of the Washington-based National Child Support Enforcement Association.

Some states only give that authority to judges, while others have programs similar to the one in Louisiana, with an administrative process for suspending licenses.

Cullen said more than 300,000 parents in 42 states have lost their drivers’ licenses because they haven’t paid their child support. That’s the most common type of license suspended.

In at least 26 states, deadbeat parents have lost their professional licenses, including nurses in South Carolina, beauticians in Mississippi and worm diggers in Maine.

The enhanced program in Louisiana started off slowly until lawmakers pushed for more aggressive action. Collections picked up, and state officials have brought in $2.5 million in overdue cash so far.

Since January, social service officials sent out 18,400 notices, ordered more than 1,200 license suspensions for drivers, hunters, fishermen and professionals and signed 238 payment arrangements, according to Lisa Woodruff-White, the child support enforcement chief for the state. Seventeen parents have requested appeals.

During that same period, the courts ordered just 99 suspensions.

Mariem Love said the license suspension program shook up Kenny Neal, the father of her 5-year-old son, but it hasn’t done enough.

``I do know that Kenny is more concerned about it now that his driver’s license has been suspended,″ said Love, a registered nurse in Baton Rouge.

Love received $300 in April and $350 in May, but hasn’t gotten much toward the $11,000 in child support Neal owes her from previous years.

Neal, a blues musician, said he was told he’d get the license when he owed $900 or less.

``It’s really hard to come up with $11,000,″ Neal said. ``I would love to pay, but I just don’t have anything to pay.″

About 45,000 deadbeat Louisiana parents, typically fathers, owe $72 million in child support. The largest delinquent payer owes $113,000, and the average debt is $1,600.

Maine used a statewide moose lottery last year as leverage in getting laggards to pay up. Hunters enter the lottery to get a limited amount of licenses to hunt moose.

Cullen said the state collected $53,000 in overdue child support by targeting the moose licenses, including the father who paid more than $32,000 in back-owed child support.

Virginia has collected more than $100 million in delinquent child support since 1995, and Maryland has brought in about $175 million since 1996.

Woodruff-White is confident her office can collect even more from the suspension program, but first the department has to locate the deadbeat parents. Some are in jail and others don’t have current listed addresses.

``We still have a lot of work to do,″ said Gwen Hamilton, secretary of the Louisiana Department of Social Services.


On the Net:

Louisiana DSS: http://www.dss.state.la.us/

National Child Support Enforcement Association: http://www.ncsea.org/