Tuesday, May 6, 2003

License threat works on deadbeats

Loss of driving privileges produces child support

By Cindi Andrews
The Cincinnati Enquirer

No child-support payments, no driver's license. That simple equation has prompted delinquent parents to cough up tens of thousands of dollars in the 18 months since it became Ohio law.

In March alone, 153 Hamilton County parents lost their driving privileges for not paying child support, according to Aiesha Walker, child support section chief for the county Department of Job and Family Services. Thirteen of them got their licenses back after making $28,000 worth of payments.

Statewide, the Ohio Bureau of Motor Vehicles has suspended the driver's licenses of 19,490 deadbeat parents since county child support agencies were first given this option in November 2001. Of those, 4,261 licenses were reinstated after payments or payment arrangements were made. The numbers in Southwest Ohio:
• Butler - 1,408 licenses suspended, 356 reinstated
• Clermont - 730 licenses suspended, 187 reinstated
• Hamilton - 1,303 licenses suspended, 149 reinstated
• Warren - 234 licenses suspended, 47 reinstated
"It's been very effective because, if you think about it, a driver's license is something almost every adult needs," said Mitchell Bonham, director of Warren County's Child Support Enforcement Agency.

In November 2001, Ohio joined a growing number of states that have given child support agencies the ability to suspend licenses for nonpayment. Kentucky went that route about six years ago, Kenton County Attorney Garry Edmondson said.

In Ohio, counties can suspend a driver's license after a 30-day grace period and a letter of warning. Hamilton County had been giving delinquent parents 90 days to pay up but is tightening that to 60 days.

Sometimes the threat of suspension is enough to get a parent to pay, Walker said.

"We want them to see this letter, and we want them to come running with money," she said.

If they don't, the county notifies the Ohio Bureau of Motor Vehicles and the license is immediately suspended.

"It's one tool that can be used in extreme circumstances," said Dennis Evans, spokesman of Ohio Job and Family Services. "Counties tend to use this as a last resort."

Since its inception, 19,490 parents statewide have had their licenses suspended and 4,261 - or almost 22 percent - have gotten them back, according to an April report from the Bureau of Motor Vehicles. The state doesn't have figures on the money collected as a result of the suspensions, however.

Counties have other ways of getting a parent's attention and money. They can sue for contempt of court, and they can take federal and state tax refunds. However, Walker said, she has to find someone to take them to court, whereas a suspension can be attached to the license of any Ohio driver.

Even the license suspension isn't going to reform all delinquent parents, predicted Jiniffer Mealor, a North College Hill mom who gets child support for her 5- and 8-year-old kids.

"It would make some people maybe think about it a little harder," she said. "But you can drive without a license, just don't get pulled over. Drive the speed limit, and stop at the stop signs."

E-mail candrews@enquirer.com

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