VALPARAISO | Porter County's new child support collection court has been in operation for just five months, yet Deputy Prosecutor Laura Stafford said she already anticipates the effort paying off with more money for the many parents in need.
There is now more court time available, which in turn is helping move cases through more quickly, Stafford said, who oversees the 4,500 active collection cases as director of what is known as the county's IV-D office.
While the effort required the county to invest in the renovation of space at the juvenile services center for the new court, it is reimbursed at 66 percent by the federal government for operational costs, she said.
Newly charged Court Commissioner Lisa Moser presides over the IV-D court, which operates Monday through Thursday.
Collections had been carried out across different courtrooms, which was challenging, Stafford said. The single location makes it much easier for her, her two deputy attorneys and 12-member support staff.
The IV-D office, located in a commercial building at 15 N. Franklin St. in Valparaiso, establishes new collection orders, addresses paternity and pursues nonpayment, she said. The state allows the office to go after parents who fall behind in their payments by $15,000 or more, which while not an uncommon amount, is not the only factor that goes into the decision whether to take action.
The office has a couple cases of parents owing more than $100,000, she said. Parents are responsible for the late payments even after the children grow older than the support age of 19 and face the potential of prison time for nonpayment.
"They owe it forever," she said.
Stafford estimated that 98 percent of the collection cases involve men, but said only a few of the deadbeat parents are choosing not to pay. The majority just lack sufficient education and/or training.
"They just don't have the capacity to be gainfully employed," she said.
Stafford said her office is attempting to respond to this need by collaborating with the unemployment office to arrange for skill training.
If parents are earning minimum wage at $7.25 per hour or $290 per week, the court-ordered payment, as established by the state, is $50 a week for one child, she said. The payment amount goes up as salaries increase, she said.
Anyone seeking help from from the IV-D office is required to pay a one-time fee of $25, Stafford said.