Chaos in Colorado
Julie Sykes is disabled and wheelchair bound. She is also a single mother. It was not always this way, in 2001 Julie married the love of her life and in 2002 they mutually agreed to adopt a son. Julie had been diagnosed with Morquio Syndrome, an inherited rare birth defect at the age of six, but her husband had pledged to love and care for her til death parted them. Despite Julie’s health challenges life was good in this military family for many years.
In 2010, Julie’s health issues had her primarily wheelchair bound and in 2011 she left Colorado to return to her family in Nebraska after she and her husband agreed to separate and work on marital issues. However, time did not provide healing for them and in 2013 Julie filed for divorce. Julie was granted the divorce and Nebraska set up an interstate case with Colorado to collect the child support owed to their son.
Julie’s ex-husband was discharged from the military in 2014 and the garnishment for the child support, spousal support and medical insurance for their son came to a screeching halt. After months of desperation, Julie turned to her church and an attorney from her church represented her pro bono. Â In December of 2015 her ex-husband was found in contempt of court for nonpayment of child support by the State of Nebraska. Colorado was notified that passport privileges were to be denied, consumer credit was notified of the outstanding debt and his driver’s license was to be suspended.
Each state has its own ‘trigger criteria’ for suspension of drivers or professional licenses for nonpayment of child support, listed on the National Conference of State Legislator’s Website. In Nebraska, the criteria are ‘Arrears in the amount of three months or more.’
In Colorado, the criteria is listed as, ‘Arrears in the amount of six months or more, while paying less than 50% of the monthly support obligation: or failure to comply with subpoena or warrant.’
During the contempt proceedings in Nebraska Julie’s ex-husband had been very vocal and angry with Julie and had even called Julie’s attorney cursing and demanding, “Help ME get out of this!” Julie’s attorney had to explain she was representing Julie in this matter and hang up to end the inappropriate conversation.
Without the child support and spousal support legally due her son and herself, Julie has been forced to go on State assistance with disability, food stamps, and Medicaid. Even with this, Julie is having a hard time making ends meet, often not paying one bill so she can pay another, then juggling those bills from month to month. Her son is now in high school and any extra’s he gets, like this school year’s yearbook are funded by Julie’s mom so her grandson will not do without those things that mean so much to kids.
Julie is angry. And rightfully so; she and her husband deliberately and willfully became parents. Parenting is a lifelong commitment, one her ex-husband is now running from. In frustration, Julie contacted her local news station and did an interview with Bill Schammert of 10/11 news, a CBS affiliate. Julie stated in this interview, “Why are taxpayers paying for my son when his father should be?”
Good question Julie, why indeed?
All the states have various methods to enforce payment of child support and suspending driver’s licenses is one method. Colorado is one of approximately ten states that do allow for a restricted, probationary license so the obligor can legally drive back and forth to work. This makes sense and should be a good thing for everyone involved.
However, Julie was told by her Nebraska case worker that she could confirm on 5-22-2017 that Colorado ‘made a mistake’ by re-issuing a driver’s license to an obligor with a total debt of $37,000 who has also not provided medical support for his son since 2014. (the re-issuance of Colorado license cannot be confirmed with Colorado at this time due to privacy restrictions on information about the obligor) As of 6-01-2017 Regional Directors from ACF over Colorado are investigating this issue.
In Colorado, these laws are covered in Statutes 26-13-123; 26-13-126 and 42-2-127.5 covers administrative review as obligors are protected by due process rights.
C.R.S 26-13-123,2(a): states, “At least on an annual basis, identify obligors who owe the following and have failed to comply with the terms of agreement to pay: child support debt, arrearages or medical support.” And in section 3(a): “At least on an annual basis, the child support agency shall issue a written notice of non-compliance to any obligor identified.”
C.R.S. 26-13-123 Section 5(c) States: “The department of revenue shall only reinstate a driver’s license upon receipt of notice of compliance from the delegate child support enforcement unit that indicates the obligor has complied with the court or administrative order or has agreed upon a payment plan approved by the delegate child enforcement unit. The delegate child support enforcement unit is not required to issue a notice of compliance based upon approval of a payment plan for an obligor who has received a second notice of failure to comply until such obligor has complied with payment plan for at least three months.”
Julie’s ex-husband certainly cannot claim he can’t afford to pay his child support. Over the past 15 months of nonpaymen, he has posted pictures of himself on social media with a new tattoo and vacationing in Las Vegas looking very happy with drink in hand.
The situation in Colorado goes beyond one interstate case that has gotten tangled across state lines. In Larimer County, A.S.’s (name withheld per request) ex is $24,000 in arrears on child support over the past four years. He makes small, infrequent partial payments and has stated openly to A. that he, “will never pay his child support.” A.S. states that her ex was also given back his driving privileges by the state of Colorado and when she questioned her caseworker she was told, “It’s a private matter. I can’t tell you anything.” A.S. then asked her ex about it and, he laughed and stated, “I just call the caseworker and tell her I don’t have any work right now (construction) and she notes the file and tells me to disregard any notices I get in the mail.”
When A.S. continued to question her caseworker about the $24,000 in arrears and what was going to be done about that, her caseworker replied, “The county attorney prosecuted him once and he did not pay, so the attorney won’t do it again. A. also states that she was told he must not pay anything for six months to ‘trigger’ the suspension. And since he pays a small partial payment once every two months he is ‘paying’. It’s worth repeating that the ‘trigger’ criteria set by the NCSL is ‘arrears in the amount of six months or more WHILE paying less than 50% of monthly child support obligation every month: or failure to comply with subpoena or warrant.’
This obligor is flagrantly violating court orders and the laws of the State of Colorado and what is being done about it?
The stats from the 2015 Report to Congress, published in 2016, show that arrears owed in Colorado are $1,176,711,492.00 Billion dollars with 134,885 cases on file owed arrears.
Why do you pay your rent, mortgage, electricity and phone bill?
You may skate by, getting one month behind before your lights and phone are cut off. It may take 30 days or more for your landlord or mortgage holder to take legal action against you, but you KNOW the consequence of not paying these bills is coming. You will be sitting cold in the dark, unable to call anyone when you get tossed out of your dwelling, or forced to pay hundreds of dollars in late fees. That is why you pay these bills. There are consequences for nonpayment that will be enforced.
Why do you pay speeding tickets? Yes, because you want to keep that privilege to drive.
And that is why non-custodial parents, male and female, all over America are NOT PAYING CHILD SUPPORT, the consequences are not enforced.
Child support is every bit as important is your own rent and utilities.
A child cannot provide these items for themselves and depend on BOTH parents to ensure these needs are met.
The Mission Statement of the Office of Child Support Enforcement is to ‘Increase the reliability of child support paid by parents when the live apart from their children’ with the purpose of, ‘promoting parental responsibility so that children will receive reliable support from both of their parents as they grow to adulthood.’
Elizabeth Owens, Media and Public Relations Manager for CDHS, was very forthcoming and gracious to answer questions related to this issue and clarify the statutes. She stated in an email, ‘Statute authorizes the suspension of driver’s license when a parent who owes support has not met their monthly support obligation, but that authorization depends on the caseworker.’
Are Colorado caseworkers ensuring that most vulnerable citizens are receiving court ordered support? I think the 134,885 single parent families owed over a billion dollars in arrears in can answer that for you.
According to the 2015 Report to Congress, submitted and published in 2016 and available for review on http://www.acf.gov/css Colorado is one of 30 states owing over One Billion dollars in arrears to over one hundred thousand families.
The national arrears are now over $115,544,338,886.00
We can only expect this outrageous number to grow and situations to become increasingly dire for single parent homes if nothing is done. Please contact your state and national representatives with your concerns about this issue.