TARGET 8: Father charged nearly $200 to collect child support he's owed
STURGEON - Imagine raising a child with no help but a few sporadic child support payments, only to be charged just to get the money you're owed. That’s what happened to Sturgeon resident Elba Roark, and he said it’s a slap in the face.
“I could understand if it was a small fee, $25, $50. I could understand that,” he said, “but $160 is a little excessive.”
Roark is a father of seven. In 2009, he went to court for custody of his son, after which the non-custodial parent was ordered to pay a monthly child support payment of $232 per month. According to Roark's records, the mother's payments have been anything but consistent. And sometimes, like when she went to prison, the payments were simply nonexistent.
She was released from prison in August 2016 and moved to Arkansas almost immediately after. Roark didn’t receive another payment until March 1, 2017, and it was only $50.
According to Missouri law, non-custodial parents are still expected to pay child support even while imprisoned. Family Support Division Deputy Director of Child Support John Ginwright said the agency will pursue payments, even during incarceration.
“If the person obligated to pay support goes to prison, the support order still continues," he said. “We will continue to pursue avenues to collect the support if there are any assets known. If there are still bank accounts or anything that we can collect it off of, we will continue to collect the support.”
But Roark never received anything while his son's mother was imprisoned. In total, court records show she owes $20,871.32 on one order and $711.78 on another. According to Missouri law, if a parent fails to pay for 6 months within a 12-month period or goes $5000 in debt to the custodial parent, it’s considered a criminal offense. According to Roark's documentation, she has violated both measures.
In August of this year, the state of Arkansas sent Roark a billing statement for $160 to enforce his court order. When Roark inquired about the hefty bill, he said the Missouri department told him it had sent a notification in November 2016 warning him that Arkansas might charge a fee.
Roark said he did not hear anything until after he contacted Missouri Attorney General Josh Hawley. Shortly after, on September 12, he received what looked to be a copy of the previous notification with the November date marked.
“I’ve never received anything up until, of course, they sent me this copy.”
If he did receive something earlier, Roark said he would have said something. Ginwright said there are only two fees Missouri assesses, and they’re minimal.
“One is a $10 fee if you don’t have your child support case open with the state agency,” he said. “The other fee is a $25 fee that is federally mandated, and that is assessed against the non-custodial parent."
He said that only goes into effect if there’s more than $500 collected that fiscal year and the parties involved in the case have not filed for public assistance.
“There are no fees assessed to the custodial parent if the case is opened with the state of Missouri,” Ginwright said.
Ginwright said enforcing child support is generally the same as if they were living in Missouri. But as far as waiving fees from outside states, Missouri doesn't have that authority.