Tuesday, June 24, 2003

Parents who owe support offered catch-up chance



By Marie McCain
The Cincinnati Enquirer

BATAVIA - Amnesty is being offered to about 200 parents identified as delinquent in their support payments to children living in Clermont County.

The month-long program, which will begin July 1, is a chance for those in arrears to make good, minus any potential penalties.

The offer, though, is only good for those whose cases are still in the civil arena. Many have bench warrants issued for their arrests because they've failed to make their payments. Any parent who is facing criminal non-support charges is ineligible for this program. Those parents with bench warrants are different from those who have been indicted and face criminal charges, officials said.

Theresa Ellison, lead attorney for the Child Support Enforcement division of the Clermont County Department of Job and Family Services, said the program is also designed to increase awareness of Child Support Month in August.

"This is really a good-faith effort on our part to try to reach out to these people who owe support and who have outstanding obligations," Ellison said. "We want to try to give the opportunity to come forward and do the right thing and we'll make sure their bench warrants are taken care of."

Amnesty has been offered to delinquent parents in the past, but relatively few people took advantage of it.

Ellison said that, at most, 10 people have come forward at any one time.

"We have a lot of tools available to us to find people and as long as people work within the system and they have to rely on some part of the system, we can find them," Ellison said.

But those resources dry up when a person lives "beyond" the system, she added.

"You can find somebody if they have a driver's license, if they have credit, if they have a car. ... It's the people who get paid in cash, who don't have a driver's license, who don't pay taxes - who are intentionally hiding - that are difficult to find," Ellison said.

In 2002, about 140 people were indicted on criminal non-support charges. Criminal charges are filed if a parent misses six months of payments out of two years.

In previous years, the agency relied on media and word of mouth to spread the news about the program, but now officials are trying something different.

This time they are directly mailing parents information about the amnesty.

Ellison said this will be the first time the program has specifically targeted parents who have bench warrants for their arrests. "We're hoping to increase our amnesty through that particular avenue because we haven't tried that before," she said.

"It helps everybody if we can do this. Nobody wants these people going to jail."

For more information or to seek amnesty call the Clermont County Child Support Enforcement Amnesty Program, 732-7248.

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E-mail mmccain@enquirer.com




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