FORT MYERS, FL – Updated: Mar 10, 2014 6:15 PM EDT &amp;lt;em class=”wnDate”&amp;gt;Monday, March 10, 2014 6:15 PM EDT&amp;lt;/em&amp;gt;
Thousands of children across Southwest Florida aren’t getting the child support owed to them – but it’s not because of deadbeat parents.
Nearly 40,000 families in our area depend on child support payments. But we found the state has millions of dollars sitting in its coffers, not being sent to the kids who need it.
Joe Hargis pays child support. He hasn’t seen his eight-year-old son, Ryan, in three years.
“It’s kind of hard to build a relationship through pictures and over the phone,” Hargis said.
While he sends the checks, Hargis tells us his son hasn’t seen the full amount since last August.
So he called the Department of Revenue, which handles child support payments, to find out why.
“They told me it was a very small problem, it hardly happens,” he said.
But we uncovered nearly 4,000 families in Lee, Charlotte and Collier counties are owed $463,000 in unpaid child support.
That figure jumps to nearly $30 million statewide.
“It certainly is money that should be going to the kids who deserve it,” said child support expert Barbara Coussu.
Officials with the Department of Revenue say hardware issues have bogged the system down. Most delays though are due to “missing information,” such as address and phone number data.
“I really don’t know why sometimes it takes as long as it does, but it can be very frustrating at times,” said Coussu, who helps clients navigate the system every day.
We found the state doesn’t have to search very hard. State statute only requires two manual reviews of the system to find the parents before they can essentially stop looking – something Coussu says is not enough.
“It’s an overburdened system, there’s a lot of people who owe child support and it is a difficult system to get through,” Coussu said.
Hargis agrees. He says his son hasn’t moved and the money goes directly into an account – it isn’t sent to an address, leaving no excuse for his payments to fall through the cracks.
A spokesperson with the Department of Revenue would not talk about Hargis’ case specifically. He would only say parents are encouraged to enroll in the ‘Direct Deposit Service’ to avoid problems.
If the state can’t find the custodian family, the law says the money will be split between the federal government and the state.