More than 1,000 parents are without licenses for child support debtsBISMARCK — More than 1,000 North Dakota drivers’ licenses are currently suspended for failing to pay child support,
By: Janell Cole, N.D. Capitol Bureau
BISMARCK — More than 1,000 North Dakota drivers’ licenses are currently suspended for failing to pay child support,
Another 688 people are on payment plans to clear arrearages knowing that if they don’t keep up their payment plans, they’ll lose their licenses, state Child Support Director Mike Schwindt told a legislative committee last week.
The 2003 Legislature gave the state Child Support Enforcement Division the power to suspend parents’ drivers’ licenses, hunting and fishing licenses and professional licenses for non-payment of child support.
Schwindt said 955 licenses currently suspended were yanked administratively by his office and another 63 have been suspended by judges.
Schwindt praises the effectiveness of the tactic.
“It is very effective for getting some people’s attention,” before people fall behind so far they can’t catch up.
But, he said, “We don’t want licenses. We want parents to take care of their kids.”
But at least one father and a legislative chairwoman wonder if the tactic isn’t counterproductive in some cases.
Terrill Epps of Mandan told the Legislature’s interim Judicial Process Committee in April that he can’t get an accurate accounting of what he owes. He’s received, at different times in recent months, a bill for about $11,737, another for $12,000, another for $15,000 and now another for $11,700. A public list on the state Web site shows Epps owes more than $15,200.
Epps told lawmakers that while he was seeking an accurate accounting, Child Support suspended his commercial driver’s license and he lost his job. Now he can’t pay anything because no one will hire him.
Child Support, he said, “Won’t tell me what the $11,737 is for,” he said. “They don’t give me any explanation. I don’t think I should have to pay a bill if they’re not going to tell me what it’s for.”
Epps said that instead of working with him, they only tell him “Either pay up or you’re in contempt.”
At the legislative meeting last week, Rep. Nancy Johnson, R-Dickinson, gave Schwindt a detailed packet of information on Epps’ case that Epps had handed out to lawmakers in April.
But Epps wasn’t at last week’s meeting and Schwindt said he can’t discuss Epps’ case with legislators or anyone else unless Epps signs a release form.
Judicial Process Committee Chairwoman Rep. Shirley Meyer, Dickinson, asked Schwindt last week to see that people in Epps’ situation can get a detailed accounting. She said after the meeting she wasn’t sure that she got assurances from Schwindt that she sought.
But Schwindt said in an interview Friday his agency does work with the debtor parents and does, indeed, provide detailed accountings in order to work out discrepancies such as in Epps’ case.
“We have absolutely nothing to gain by not giving them information,” he said. He cites one case from several years ago involving an alleged debt of more than $100,000, where the agency finally admitted the man “owed absolutely nothing.”
Meyer and Rep. Lawrence Klemin, R-Bismarck, asked Schwindt why Child Support does not make arrangements for the obligors to get a work permit while their licenses are suspended, just as people do who are arrested for DUI. Schwindt said the agency’s lawyers said it not allowed under the current law.
Meyer’s committee promptly OK’d a bill for consideration in the 2009 session to give Child Support the power to grant permits that allow parents with suspended licenses to get to and from work.
Janell Cole works for Forum Communications Co., which owns The Dickinson Press.