Michigan targets child-support debts

Attorney General Mike Cox shifts staff to procure funds.
Attorney General Mike Cox shifts staff to procure funds.

MONROE - Michigan Attorney General Mike Cox was in Monroe yesterday to unveil his office's new effort to collect more than $7 billion in back child support owed to custodial parents in Michigan, including more than $66 million to those in Monroe County.

Lenawee County has $44.1 million in overdue child support payments while Hillsdale County has $6.1 million.

“It is an epidemic. There are more than 600,000 kids in Michigan who don't get regular child support,” Mr. Cox said. “In Ohio, the amount of arrearage is less than half than what we have in Michigan. It's time Michigan woke up and did a better job in collecting this support.”

Michigan is ranked 47th of the 50 states in the amount of overdue child support.

The Republican attorney general, who took office in January, said he has committed 10 of his employees - six attorneys, two full-time investigators, and two support people - to tracking down deadbeat parents and bringing them and their money back to Michigan's family courtrooms.

His goal, he said, is to raise Michigan's arrearage collection rate from 47 percent to something closer to Iowa's 72 percent.

Mr. Cox's colleague in Iowa employs 18 attorneys full time. They do nothing but track down deadbeat parents and return them to the state. If they can't pay, they are incarcerated, the attorney general said.

Mr. Cox said funding for the 10 employees who will be dedicated to this project came from not filling other positions that were funded under the administration of his predecessor, Democrat Jennifer Granholm, who was elected governor in November.

He said his staff would focus on those who have the means to pay child support, but refuse. “For people that won't pay, we ought to go after those people. And if those people need to be locked up, we'll lock those people up,” Mr. Cox said. “We're not out to lock people up. We're out to get people to pay.”

The federal government reimburses states two-thirds of all the costs the state incurs tracking down deadbeat noncustodial parents. In addition, Mr. Cox said, national studies have shown that states get a $3 return for every dollar they spend on such an effort.

Joe Hudson, Monroe County's Friend of the Court, which oversees collection of child support for county residents, said his office welcomed any assistance from the state in helping round up deadbeat parents.

“We have 32 cases that involve individuals who owe more than $120,000 in back child support,” Mr. Hudson said. Of those, all but two live outside of the state, making collection more difficult.

Still, Mr. Hudson said, those 32 “worst” cases represent less than three-tenths of one percent of his office's total caseload, and 10 of the 32 are making some payments on their debt to their children.

The attorney general said his office staff will start its project by going after the state's worst offenders and working its way down from there.

“It's an iceberg out there. We have to start chopping at the top and work our way down,” Mr. Cox said.