Wednesday, January 13, 2010

How the Government is Holding my Child Support Hostage

I know this is very long, but it's five long months of inefficiency and blame by two government offices. Offices put in place to make getting child support to custodial parents easier. 

Starting before my divorce finalized in 2007, an order to withhold income (child support) was officially filed with the courts and payments were taken from my almost ex-husband's paychecks.  He worked for a private employer, and I never had a problem receiving it.  His ex-girlfriend also had a previous support case that was set up through the state years ago.

Fast forward to August 2009.  My ex starts a new job with the federal government and I assume the change in information to continue my child support will be no problem.  I mean, this is pretty standard.  Mail the income withholding papers and it's done, just like with his previous job.

At first, I was optimistic about the process.  My divorce lawyer mailed the order of support to the ex's new job thinking it would get processed.  After a month, and two pay periods, went by I didn't get a payment.  I didn't receive any information regarding the child support paperwork or see anything online that would indicate a problem.  This began my long, horrible journey to try to get my child support.

First, I started with the federal department in charge of withdrawing the payments from my ex's checks.  They should have received the withholding notice from my lawyer and implemented it.   That's when I was told that they don't accept mailed orders anymore, such as the one my lawyer sent, and it had to be sent electronically from my state.  I was informed I had to fill out my state's paperwork just to get an appointment to begin the process & that could take over a month.  Basically a legal order could be ignored by the federal government just because they make their own rules!  A letter informing someone of the change would have been a standard courtesy.  I contacted my divorce lawyer to let him know of the glitch and he gave me some basic information about what to expect.

In September, I filled out and mailed the application and attached the current order, as indicated in the instructions.  I waited patiently and with optimism in my trusting little heart.  I thought, "I'll go in, they'll review & enter my order, and I'll get my money right after they send it electronically to the ex's job."  How hard can it be now that we have computers to send information?  It's not as if we were starting a new case or modifying anything.  It was a standard order being transferred to a new job.  Really basic! 

In October, I got my appointment with the state child support office.  I saw it online before I got the letter in the mail.  I should have known when I didn't get the letter for two weeks after seeing it online!  I had all my paperwork ready, and was prepared to wait in a lobby with a bunch of people trying to get money from deadbeats who didn't want to pay.  I assumed I'd be in and out pretty quickly though.  Note my continued optimism.  At this point, it was only 3 missing payments, 1.5 months unpaid.  I had my savings & school financial aid to supplement my monthly income.

So there wasn't a wait, but they were a mess!  The receptionist couldn't find my paperwork I mailed in, and the guy in the state office did not inspire confidence at all either.  He barely let me speak, said my appointment could have been over the phone, and got my information confused with my ex's first order for his ex.  I left feeling less optimistic but still hopeful that it would only be a month max, giving time for whatever research they had to do and the electronic sending of withholding notice.

I stalked the state child support website to see when it would update with my information.  I saw his ex get her payments.  I saw when her increase went through around the same time mine was being filed.  I waited through October since they get almost a month before anyone will do anything.  Nothing happened.

November still nothing.  December more nothing.

I made phone calls to everyone office possible.  I got hung up on after sitting on hold for 30+ minutes.  I've sat on hold for two hours at a time trying to get answers.  I've been given conflicting information.  The federal government said they never got the order, even though I have a copy that was sent.  The state government says they sent it but the back support takes months to review and post.  I don't even CARE about that and I just wanted a freaking payment!  My savings and financial aid dwindled, and I had to start working ridiculous hours every week.  I'm told the state will resend the order and I have to wait 10 business days to call back during the holidays where ten days is over two weeks.  I'm talked to like I am a moron who hasn't been calling for months to get money for her child.  The most annoying thing is that his job assumed I was his ex-gf and told me I'm getting my payments.  So obviously if one of us is getting child support, the system works in some kind of way.  Just not for me.  Yelling and crying don't work either.

Now it's January and I still have not seen a payment from his employer!  I'm so beaten down I didn't even want to call his employer to see if they got the second order and letter about noncompliance.  They again claim they didn't get it, but magically they got the order for providing medical...which he doesn't even have!!! WTF?!  My state offices indicated they're working on it and tried to contact his job, but I had to leave a message to get more information.

Supposedly there are daily fines for an employer disregarding an order of support, but apparently they don't apply to the federal government because they make their own rules.  Also, they just keep claiming that they didn't get it.  Somewhere, somehow there's a breakdown and no one wants to talk to anyone else to fix this.  I'm doing all the work to follow up and no one is telling me anything.  All I can do is pray that tomorrow I'm able to have the state office CALL the federal office and figure out what happened.

It boggles the mind that a legal order, already set in place and not changed one single bit, can take so long to get through the system!  This isn't them trying to find someone trying to hide from paying.  This isn't an order being modified in any way at all.  This isn't a new order that has never had a payment made on it.  This is a legal, binding document that is being ignored by the federal government because they claim they're not getting an 'electronic' order that supposedly goes in automatically.

Why didn't my lawyer or I get a letter stating they weren't accepting mailed orders when they got mine?  Why do I have to call and call and call to find this all out myself?  Why can't someone give me a straight answer?  How, in this day and age of computers or even old-school fax machines, can this not get figured out?  Why do I have to wait 10 to 15 business days before I can call anyone when the federal government hasn't paid me?  Why does it take 30 days from an order being sent out before my state can send a noncompliance letter?

If it's this bad for me because of a simple job change from private employer to government employer, how broken must it be for others?  Sadly, if I had not been married to the ex and had the state do my order originally rather than a divorce lawyer, this would all be a non-issue.  I don't understand why the state support offices don't process child support orders to begin with when a divorce is finalized.  His ex-girlfriend didn't have any of these problems with the job change because she had to go through the state in the first place.  This whole situation has been completely overwhelming trying to navigate a system they make so difficult.

Finally, the big question is why doesn't he give me the child support payments directly or send them to the disbursement office rather than building up back support all these months & watching me struggle?  It's valid and seems to make sense if we thought a payment wouldn't mess up things even more.  Seriously, they can't even figure out why my order isn't going through, God forbid I put a payment through the completely separate disbursement office and I might break the system completely.  The ex and I are on civil terms and we've discussed this at length.  I was also told later that until my account showed any type of balance, his payment would be returned to him or go to his ex-girlfriend's account!  Also, he has helped out but we both thought that with each check the support would be taken out.  We're both at a loss now.  If I don't get answers tomorrow, he and I will have to discuss how to fix this problem.  My hands are tied and I am physically exhausted from this endeavor to get my son's money from the federal government. 

1 comment:

Samantha said...

This is awful... a new list of what ifs to add to my worry list. I wish you the best in this battle!

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