ELIZABETHTOWN — The original goal of the child support program in North Carolina, which turns 40 years old this month, is to bring financial stability into the lives of children. That’s a goal taken seriously by the members of the Bladen County Child Support Enforcement Unit.
Child Support Enforcement Supervisor Martha Howe said the unit consists of one office assistant and seven agents, and they currently serve 2,120 children and for the 2014-15 fiscal year the unit collected $3,699,802.
“I would like to thank Vickie Smith, Wes Johnson and the local defense bar, Judge Scott Ussery, and the child support staff for their outstanding service to the citizens of Bladen County,” said Department of Health and Human Services Director Cris Harrellson.
Howe said the efforts to enforce child support orders are a combination of many folks working together diligently. Howe said the effort includes her staff working closely with the local defense attorneys, the Clerk of Court’s office, working with Wes Johnson and the staff of Johnson Law Firm, and working with the Bladen County Sheriff’s Office.
“Our clerk and our attorney’s office, they are signing papers for us,” said Howe of the documentation.
She added that all documentation and paperwork has to be signed by the proper authorities. Howe added that the Clerk of Court’s office keeps track of things.
Howe said the majority of the child support cases the unit handles are in Bladen County, the state of North Carolina and a few cases are in a couple of foreign countries.
“We have reciprocity in 23 countries, but do not in Mexico,” said Howe.
She said that when an individual misses a monthly payment, the unit is notified after 30 days. Howe said they will attempt to contact the individual and learn why they missed their payment.
Bladen County DSS Director Vickie Smith said that after the first 30 days, a letter will be sent and the individual is given the opportunity to pay. Howe added that if they don’t hear anything then they begin the process to collect the past due amount.
She said the unit has various methods at their disposal to collect past due child support payments. Howe said that child support can collected through wage/income withholding, the court can intercept a person’s tax refund, or a lien can be placed on their bank account, the court can intercept lottery winnings, and block passports and suspend a person’s drivers license until they pay their child support.
Howe said the unit receives its cases two ways—someone comes into the department and asks for help or they are referred from another department within DSS. The unit will establish a case and open a file. Once the file has been opened then the next step is to establish paternity and support. She said once the paternity and support have been established by the court, then it will move to enforcement of the order the judge issues.
Howe said her unit is very busy with interstate child support orders, and enforcing and establishing orders for other states and those states also establish and enforce orders for Bladen County.
She added that there is a tremendous amount of paperwork generated by the unit’s agents. Howe said that anything that has to be served is handled by the Bladen County Sheriff’s Office.
“We go to court twice per month. We work with all the local attorneys through Wes Johnson,” said Howe.
She added that once the judge makes a decision, the orders have to be hand signed.
Smith said the child support amount is usually based on both parent’s income.
“Cases are reviewed every three years or if major changes are reported by one party or the other,” said Howe.
—Erin Smith can be reached by calling 910-862-4163.