August is Arizona’s Child Support Awareness Month. Linda Scott, the supervisor of the Division of Child Support Services, said the goal of her department is to work with custodial and non-custodial parents to help provide for the needs of the children involved.
For the 2013-14 fiscal year, they able to collect $1.12 million in child support payments.
“The money is helping these kids,” she stated.
The DCSS is a division of the La Paz County Attorney’s Office.
Scott said there are two ways in which a child support case can be opened. The first way comes when a custodial parent applies for medical or cash assistance from the Arizona Department of Economic Security.
Scott said that, when a custodial parent seeks assistance from DES, they are required to also seek child support from the non-custodial parent.
If the custodial parent receives child support, that amount is deducted from assistance provided by DES. She said the computer systems from DES and DCSS interface to prevent fraud.
The other way a child support case is started is when a custodial parent comes to the DCSS office and fills out an application seeking child support from the non-custodial parent.
Once a case is opened, Scott said they contact the non-custodial parent if that person can be located, or they will attempt to locate that person. Once this is done, if the non-custodial parent is the father, paternity must be established.
She stated this is often a simple matter of the non-custodial father admitting these are his children.
Scott said they are getting more and more cases where paternity does not need to be established because the custodial parent is the father and the mother is the non-custodial parent.
Once paternity is established, or once it is clear the non-custodial parent is really one of the parents of the children involved, Scott said they use a state formula based on incomes and assets to determine the level of child support.
Once that is calculated, they seek a child support order from a judge. They must ask the judge to award the amount reached by the state formula, but the judge may deviate from that amount. If a judge does this, he or she must give a reason as he or she decided against awarding the calculated amount.
When money for support payments is brought to the office, Scott said it is deposited into a special account and sent to a clearinghouse. A spreadsheet explaining how to money is to be distributed is sent to the clearinghouse. Within 24 hours, that money has been sent to the custodial parent.
Scott emphasized her office wants to work with custodial and non-custodial parents to do what’s best for the children. They will only go to court if one of the parties is not cooperating, or if the party that agreed to pay a certain amount in child support fails to do so.
If a person is not paying the agreed to amount for child support, a court can issue a Child Support Arrest Warrant. If a person is arrested, a judge could order a “purge amount,” a set amount that person must pay in order to be released from custody.
“Unfortunately, this is the only way to get money out of some people,” Scott said.
The Internal Revenue Service will also withhold child support payments from income tax refunds if a person is behind on their payments.
Scott said one of their new partners is the La Paz Career Center. Non-custodial parents who don’t have jobs are referred there to look for job openings. They can also work towards improving their education so they can obtain better jobs.
Scott said the Parker DCSS office operates under an Intergovernmental Agreement with the DES Child Support Services and follows all their guidelines and rules. Given all they are exposed to, strict confidentiality rules are in place. They must go to regular training sessions in Phoenix.
Scott said it was important to keep the Parker office open, as the nearest DCSS offices are in Yuma or Kingman.
In addition to working with the state, Scott said they also have an intergovernmental agreement with the Colorado River Indian Tribes. She said about 40 percent of their cases involve tribal members. She said tribal law is different, particularly in regards to establishing paternity. Their cases are heard on Thursdays in Tribal Court.
As part of the effort at demonstrating they want to work with all parties involved, the name Department of Child Support Services was coined. All parties are now referred to as “customers.” Scott said the old name, Department of Child Support Enforcement, had negative connotations for many people.
The Parker office currently has three employees, Scott and three legal assistants. They are known as “generalists,” because, unlike the situations in larger counties, they have to do everything involved in the process.
Scott said they currently have 653 open cases.
“The bottom line is helping the children,” Scott said. “We must do everything to help these children. A lot of parents are desperate, we need to help them.”
The Division of Child Support Services office is located at 1008 Hopi Avenue in Parker. The phone number is 928-669-6469.