Saturday, February 20, 1999

Parents could get
new option to pay
child support directly

By Craig Gima


Legislature '99 Parents who regularly make their child-support payments may be able to opt out of the Child Support Enforcement Agency's payment system, under bills being considered by the state Legislature.

One measure has advanced in the House, and another is awaiting a decision in the Senate Judiciary Committee.

The House bill would allow a child-support hearings officer, in addition to the Family Court, to approve alternatives to withholding wages from paychecks.

Agency administrator Michael Meaney said parents already can opt out through the courts but that he supports the House bill.

"I think it's a good thing," Meaney said. "It does make it a little bit easier for people who qualify to obtain a direct-payment exemption."

At a hearing on another bill before the Senate Judiciary Committee, parents testified about their frustration with the child-support payment system.

Don Carroll said he has been paying child support for nine years.

"The only delays in payment have been the results of some disorganization at the Child Support Enforcement Agency," he said. "I believe both my ex-wife and my children would prefer to have me pay them directly."

Haaheo Mansfield testified that she is a veteran of the child-support war -- but it was waged with the agency, not her former husband.

"The difficulties we experienced were due to a system ill equipped to handle the monthly volume of payments," she said.

The Commission on the Status of Women submitted testimony supporting the bill's intent but wondered how the agency would be able to collect back payments if a parent who opted out stopped making payments.

Under the House bill, the best interests of the child would be a factor in the decision to approve alternative forms of payment.

Another House bill that would have required the agency to pay interest for late payments appears to have died in the Judiciary Committee.

Deputy Attorney General Bryan Yee testified that the agency's computers are not programmed to calculate the amount of interest generated by each individual account. He said reprogramming the computers would be extremely expensive.

Yee said the interest is used to pay for such items as the cost of intercepting a tax return to collect back child-support payments.

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