SEBRING - A.B. is owed $9,588 in back child support.
"That is not going to get paid," she wrote in a email, "because they are not hard enough (on) the one that has to pay."
A.B. is one of 4,227 custodial parents in Highlands County who should get a check every month from the Florida Department of Revenue. However, $4.85 million remains uncollected just in the past fiscal year. That doesn't include prior years, according to spokeswoman Renee Watters.
One of every three child support dollars remained uncollected in Fiscal Year 2013, an FDOR report said: 34 percent in Highlands County, 35 percent in Hardee, 30 percent in DeSoto and Glades, 33 percent in Okeechobee and Polk. The Florida average is 31 percent.
Why doesn't FDOR enforce the law?
"They take their driving license and they drive without them," A.B. said. "Then it's no passport. Like that does anything. Then it's getting taken out of their check. Oh, okay, the boss pays them in cash."
A U.S. Census Bureau Report shows some non-custodial parents are adept at gaming the system. Collectively, they owe more than $14 billion in payments.
A bond with the child is one key.
"The more contact a child has with the noncustodial parent, the more likely they are to be the beneficiary of the full financial support," said report author Timothy Grall, a statistician.
But while more contact with noncustodial parents increases the likelihood of receiving the full amount of child support payments due, just 62 percent of the $38 billion owed was actually paid to the nation's 14.4 million custodial parents in 2011.
"Custodial Mothers and Fathers and Their Child Support: 2011," found the full amount was received in just 49 percent of cases where the child had contact with their noncustodial parent. In contrast, the custodial parent received the full amount of child support in only 30.7 percent of cases where the child did not have contact with the noncustodial parent.
Custodial parents have custody of 23.4 million children under age 21, while the other parent lives somewhere else. Almost 82 percent are mothers.
About 74 percent of custodial parents received either full or partial payments in 2011; 43.4 percent received full payments.
"So they get put in jail, just to get out in a few hours," said A.B., a step-mother; "$279.00 bucks a month is what she has to pay to me. I have raised this kid for 13 years and might have gotten $2,000 for him in the last 13 years. Then I have to tell them where she working, living, and everything about her. But yet they get paid for my leg work."
Older, educated non-custodial parents are the most likely to pay. Other factors:
At least a bachelor's degree, 50.6 percent.
Divorced, 48.4 percent.
Age 40 or older, 48.4 percent.
Joint physical or legal custody, 56.3 percent.
The lowest likelihood:
Under 30 years old, 36.6 percent.
Less than a high school education, 36.4 percent.
Never married, 35.1 percent.
Child support payments were critical to custodial parents in poverty, accounting for 66.7 percent of the average annual income of those custodial parents.
More than 56 percent of custodial parents received some type of noncash support from noncustodial parents:
Gifts for birthdays, holidays or other occasions, 53.5 percent.
Clothes, 36.6 percent.
Food or groceries, 27.3 percent.
WHAT OUR READERS SAID
I am a step-mother to my son, who I have raised since he was 3. His mother has never been forced to pay child support regularly.
She gets served every six months to pay $100. Most of the time, she ends up in jail, and someone else pays it and she's out. Then the same cycle starts over.
My husband, our son's father, has gone to child support enforcement continuously, and they tell him this is how it's always going to be.
She doesn't work, but is perfectly able to and is ordered to only pay $10 a week. On the court papers she claims to clean houses, but only makes $100 a month.
If this was a man, they would be in jail. It's sad they are more lenient just because she is a woman.
Our son's sister has two kids who, when the dads don't pay, they are served within two months to pay or go to jail. This is all here in Highlands County.
I have had custody of my 12-year-old daughter since March 2009. Her mother lives in N.J. and does not now, nor has she ever, paid child support. I have been in contact with the Florida Department of Revenue countless times over the years, to no avail. I have been told that the mother simply cannot be located, and since she has not worked in at least four years, it makes it that much harder to establish/enforce payment.
She has not updated the State of New Jersey with her new address, which in most states would be considered a violation of their policy at the very least, and in some cases would be illegal. I am very frustrated at this point, and if I had the resources to hire an attorney or private investigator, I would.
Well how about when the state of Florida receives the support for a child and keeps all of the monies! Kept us receiving $180 a month on Temporary Cash Assistance and kept hundreds a month away from this child. Even paying back the $180 for the two years we received it, they still kept hundreds of dollars from this child that was intended for his support.
This injustice to our children from the state has to be addressed and stopped. It is a subject that needs immediate attention for so many children.
I know this is not on topic, but here is my point: How about the fathers that only see their kids 48 days out of the year and only pay $420 a month, and when the kids ask for stuff, all they get is, "Well that's what I pay child support for," or they buy them stuff, but they can't take it to the mother's house, or "Well, if you lived with me, you would get what you want."
Also, how about the part where he needs to have them on health insurance, but he doesn't, and you have to have them on Medicaid because you can't afford to put them on your health insurance at work?
But no, the system doesn't see that, they are only focused that the paying parent pays.
But if the mothers want to move from the county to provide a better life for the kids, that's when all hell breaks loose. They want 101 reasons to prove that you will be better in another county. Oh, and then all you can move is 150 miles from the other parent.
Now how about that part of the system? Come on, the system should work fair for both sides. Just saying.
J.F., mother of two on child support