Posts Tagged ‘Child support’

THE DEPARTMENT OF HUMAN SERVICES – SOME FACTS AND SOME FICTION

Monday, May 20th, 2019

By: Michael Louvier

“The Mississippi Department of Human Services is dedicated to serving others while providing a wide range of public assistance programs, social services and support for children, low-income individuals and families. The agency seeks to empower families so they can become self-sufficient and responsible for their future success.” (Source: MS.gov)

The family law office of Matthew Poole fields many telephone calls and emails with a similar message: The DHS is handling a child support case for me and they aren’t doing anything. Before you roll your eyes and assume that this article is a “hatchet-job” against the DHS, please understand that this is not at all my intention. Fact is, the DHS has many hard working and dedicated case workers and social workers who are doing the very best that they can. As with many of our government employees, both State and Federal, they are very often over-worked and under-paid.

With that said, let me get right to the actual point of the article: What the DHS does and what they don’t do, as it relates to a child support case.

The Department of Human Services acts as a “debt collection agency” for the State of Mississippi. That is, the child support division, through the many case workers and attorneys, strive to enforce the statutory guidelines regarding child support against punitive parents. This usually means fathers of children, either unwed or divorced, who are neglecting to adequately provide financial support for their children. The DHS will take on such cases, free of charge, for individuals who qualify. And that is the key element to this difficult equation: there are so very many individuals who qualify because of their low income. It stands to reason that the lower income single parent needs the child support funds more urgently than the DHS can accomidate. This fact creates a “Catch-22” (my apologies to Joseph Heller) in that these cases are of vital importance to the parent trying to raise a child (or in many instances children) without sufficient funds and yet the DHS is overwhelmed by the sheer numbers of cases in each and every county throughout the State of Mississippi and; therefore, the system is slow and the receipt of these vital funds is delayed. The longer the delay, the more vital the funds become. And this circular pattern continues and will continue ad nausium.

Once a Judgment for Support has been obtained by the DHS through the Chancery Court of the county wherein the child (or children) resides, there are several ways that the Judgment can be enforced. The most common way is through wage garnishment. The DHS can garnish the pay of the punitive parent as much as 35% of the paycheck. Unfortunately, many of these fathers simply change jobs, and now the DHS must become “private investigators” to seek out and find the new place of employment. This game of cat and mouse is very common. Another tool at the disposal of the DHS is the interception and seizure of any tax refund that the punitive parent is entitled – State and/or Federal. This power is quite effective, unfortunately it is only a “once-a-year” tool. The DHS can have the driving privileges of the punitive parent suspended. And finally, if the amount owed becomes substantial enough and there is no reasonable efforts to pay, the punitive parent can be incarcerated. These last two measures are an effective motivation for a parent to pay; however, if these options are employed by the DHS, this does nothing to financially support the child. The punitive dad is now driving on a suspended driver’s license or worse, he is in jail…but little Johnny is still going to bed hungry.

Over-worked with massive and ever growing case loads, while seldom appreciated and most definitely under-paid and for the reasons stated above often incapable of making a real difference – this is the unfortunate status of the Department of Human Services.

Some things that the DHS cannot do for their clients (or payors) include the enforcement of a schedule of visitation, nor can the DHS dictate the manner in which collected funds are spent.

All too often, a parent will complain that his child support obligation is being satisfied (either voluntarily or though some collection/garnishment activity) however the custodial parent will not allow for any substantial visitation with the child. This is not something that the DHS will assist you with. Another common complaint is that the mother is using the child support funds on herself: getting her hair and nails done or buying new clothes for herself but not the child. Again, the DHS is not interested in this type of problem. And while the DHS cannot and will not assist you with these issues that are relevant to the best interests of the welfare of the child, these are certainly NOT excuses or valid defenses for not satisfying a child support obligation.

Michael Louvier received a B.A. from University of New Orleans (1988) and a J.D. from Mississippi College School of Law (1994) and is currently a contributor to the blog articles for attorney Matthew S. Poole. Michael is married 28 years (Tammy) and they have 2 children (Amy, 25 and Nick, 20).

OUR CHILD IS GOING TO COLLEGE! WAIT…WHO’S GOING TO PAY FOR THIS?

Thursday, January 24th, 2019

Michael Louvier, J.D.

As of last week my son Nick is a student at Mississippi State and my wife and I, and our entire family for that matter, could not be more proud of him. It is a time that we have experienced before with my daughter, Amy, in 2012, and so maybe we have some perspective on this transition. The family dynamic has changed, of course, as our last child is now “living on his own”.

The family finances have, also, changed; what with another rent payment, new utility bills and the other costs that come with a child “living on his own”. Factor in the books, extra fuel associated with travel, food, lab fees, parking fees, fraternity or sorority dues, etc. etc. All of this and I haven’t even mentioned the most important cost factor: TUITION. Suffice it to say that the tuition and all of the other expenses related to attendance at a four-year university is quite high.

This type of transition can be a very stressful and expensive time for all families. For parents of children whose families are divided by divorce or other circumstances, this new chapter in your life and, more importantly, the life of your child, will be exciting, stressful, and expensive, of course. And so the “million-dollar question is: Who pays for all of this? (It’s not quite a million dollars – it just feels that way).

Whether the parents are no longer married or were never married it should be obvious that a Court Order is best source for guidance on this issue. However, absent specific language in the judgment, this remains an unanswered question. This is not a simple “child-support” matter. Many divorces are settled out of court with the parties agreeing to matters of child custody and child support being contained in a Marital Dissolution Agreement a Property Settlement Agreement. Unfortunately, many of these Agreements do not speak to this issue within the “four corners” of the document. Still others include a generic mention that “non-custodial parent will pay for college” or some equally vanilla and non-descript language.

Perhaps the Agreement was prepared when the child was very young and college was not being contemplated yet. Or maybe it was simply assumed that the parents would “share” these costs and therefore no language about college was included. Whatever the case may be, a child’s decision to go to college may be considered “a material change in circumstances justifying child support modification.” See Lawrence v. Lawrence, 574 So2d 1376 (Miss. 1991). Another interesting and more recent case is Harris v. Porter decided by the Mississippi Court of Appeals in 2016. In Harris, a modification of child support was granted after a showing that the child “clearly showed aptitude for and the potential to benefit from college according to her high-school record” and the father was financially able to help with college expenses.

If you don’t yet know who has to pay, for whatever reason, you should do everything you can to completely identify how much and then try to reduce that amount.One very helpful organization is Get2college.org. There you will find useful information and specifics about the school that you are planning for and the availability of ACT prep courses and study materials. You will also find help with completing your FASFA (Free Application for Federal Aid). You will also want to visit studentaid.ed.gov. It is worth your time and effort to visit these sites in an effort to get any and all the help that is out there for your child.

Your student has some accountability in this also. The higher the GPA, the more scholarships and grants that you may qualify for. Also, a higher ACT score will not surprisingly increase these awards for your student. Remember that the Court in Harris v. Porter used the child’s high school record to determine her aptitude for college. Can we, therefore, assume that if the child had poor grades and a low ACT score that they would not have ordered the father to pay for the costs associated with college? Hard to say, but the Court’s decision was made easier by the high marks earned by the student.

Be happy for and proud of your child for wanting to go to college in spite of the financial burden. Educate yourself about the costs associated with this next step in your child’s life. And seek the guidance and assistance with aid, grants, and scholarships available. In this instance, knowledge truly is power.

Michael Louvier is a graduate of Mississippi College School of Law (1994). He has been married for 28 years (Tammy) and they have 2 children (Amy, 25 and Nick 20).