State Department of Justice officials say the goal of their new child support initiative is not to put people who don’t pay in jail — but to get them back on track.
Both parents are required to support a child in Delaware through age 18 or 19. If noncustodial parents fail to make child support payments or show up to child support hearings, they can have their wages garnished, their license suspended, or even be incarcerated.
DOJ officials say there are over 3,100 Delawareans with outstanding warrants for failure to pay child support or to show up in court for child support hearings.
So far they have gotten twenty such individuals to voluntarily appear in court to begin resolving their child support debts — through a new initiative started this spring.
Special investigator Bill McGillan says he tells those with child support debts that his goal is not to arrest them — but to get them to make good-faith efforts to pay.
“Some of them, they’re just afraid to show up to court because they think they’re going to go to jail and lose the current job they have and they’re just staying away longer instead of actually addressing the issue, applying for a reassessment, and starting the process of getting a driver's license back, an ID back.”
McGillan says the initiative has helped some parents experiencing a significant change in circumstances — like health problems — petition the courts for modified child support payments through a reassessment.
“Now somebody’s had a capias for two years and they say, I don’t have $10,000, I don’t have $20,000. We’re not asking them for that,” he said. “We’re asking them to come in on good faith. And start— what can you afford? Let’s start this over.”
"At the end, most guys who follow through are very thankful,” McGillan added.
Deputy Attorney General Phyllis Scully says DOJ officials also try to connect those who participate in the initiative with substance abuse or employment resources, such as the Department of Health and Social Services’ Fatherhood Program, if needed.
“So you’ve got people who are employed now who weren’t employed,” she said. “We’ve got people who are making regular monthly payments. And you’ve got people who are facing up to their problems.
But some who miss too many payments or court hearings, even if they participate in the initiative, could be incarcerated.
Scully says DOJ has prioritized which parents to reach out to first based on the amount they owe, the length of their capias, or bench warrant, and their location. The initiative began in New Castle County and has begun to expand to Kent County. Officials plan to eventually expand it to Sussex.
This story has been corrected to more accurately reflect the state of the initiative in Delaware's three counties.