Part 3: Child support violators difficult to track even if they're government employees
After a city police officer drove a patrol car for more than a year on a suspended license for non-payment of child support, he claimed he was never notified.
How does the state notify parents? Why would the state allow people to still hold a license if they no longer have driving privileges? Did the police department treat the officer the same as anyone else?
The city knew Officer Lee Mayweather's paychecks would not cover the orders to pay support on his children.
“When Officer Mayweather failed to make child support payments garnished (due to not enough pay,) the city notified the agency that sent the garnishment,” said Lacie Stone, Communications Director for the city of Chattanooga.
Employees sometimes don't have enough to garnish off their check because they have a large amount specified on an order, perhaps have more than one order and often times a portion of that is late payments, she said.
“At that point, the employee is responsible for paying the difference and the city would not be notified if the employee did or did not,” she said.
The city notifies the state. Then the state takes action to revoke the license.
The state does not communicate to the employer if a parent's license is revoked.
“Due to confidentiality, the [parent's] employer is not contacted,” said Devin Stone, spokeswoman for the Department of Human Services.
State law imposes a $75 fee if the person does not return the physical copy of the license.
“If stopped by a law enforcement officer and the license has not been surrendered, the officer is authorized to confiscate the license and return [it] to the department,” said Dalya Qualls, spokeswoman for the Department of Safety.
“If or when the $75 surrender fee has been paid, then $25 of the fee is paid to the law enforcement agency.”
A background check on Mayweather shows numerous addresses over the years.
Some parents say that while they may have known they were behind in payments, they did not realize that they their license was revoked.
“Honestly, child support deals with a lot of nomadic people, so it would be likely some people wouldn't get the letter,” said Rachel Brock, court director for Hamilton County Juvenile Court. “Actually I think you'd be hard pressed to find someone who didn't complain that they never got the letter.”
Each year, Chattanooga police officers cites thousands of drivers or arrests them on driver's license violations. Chattanooga police wrote 5,660 tickets for city court for driver's license violations last year. As of this month, police officers have already issued 3,436 tickets.
When department officials learned of Mayweather's driver's license status in March 2014, he was never cited. He was never arrested.
When Mayweather said he did not know his license was revoked, a supervisor reminded him to stay in compliance.
Mayweather patrols a zone in east Chattanooga with shootings and drug deals that cause officers to step up patrol.
Had Mayweather been stopped in a civilian car in civilian clothes he would have likely been arrested.
“No option with driving on revoked or suspended,” said one law enforcement source.
Most people who drive on a revoked or suspended license often say they never received notice, Brock said.
“Although keep in mind I'd be talking to people complaining about their license being revoked, so it's more likely they would say they were unaware of the process,” she said.
Every six months, the state reviews child support cases where a parent's driver's license, professional license, or handgun permit can be suspended for delinquent payments.
To have a license suspended due to non-payment of child support, the parent must have $500 or more owed in back payments for the past three months.
Typically parents are notified through certified mail if their license is about to become suspended or revoked, according to officials.
RELATED LINK | NOTICE OF REVOCATION
A list is compiled and notifications are sent out to parents via certified mail warning them of drivers license revocation. They are issued an administrative court date in Nashville where they can appeal the revocation within 20 days.
"I find it hard to fathom that something like this could fall through the cracks at more than six months at a time.”
- Sam Mairs, Hamilton County Juvenile Court Administrator
In Hamilton County, a third party company, Maximus, holds a contract to provide child support enforcement on behalf of the state in Hamilton County. The contract to provide services in Hamilton County for state fiscal year 2015 is $2,586,206. The company declined to comment for this story and directed comments to the state.
Enforcement services include:
- Establishing paternity
- Establishing child support orders
- Enforcing child support orders
- Collecting and distributing child support payments
Source: Department of Human Services Spokeswoman Devin Stone