WINSTON-SALEM — For months, the state's child support collection system was a mess. Now, the contractor that runs it is being sued. It is the first legal action against the company for the problem.
Two women have filed a class action lawsuit against SMI in Forsyth County. It alleges that the company lost or delayed payments to families across the state.
Before it is all over, thousands of parents could join the suit, requiring the company to pay out millions of dollars in damages.
Wilma Harris was arrested last month for not paying child support even though it was being garnished from her paycheck. The problem was that her money was lost in the new state child support system run by Systems and Methods Inc.
Harris and another woman have filed the class action lawsuit.
"Mistakes have drastic consequences for the people involved," said attorney Randy James.
James says thousands of families have received late payments or no payments at all.
"If these people have sent their money to SMI through the centralized collection or are recipients, and the money is not there, what happened to it?" said James.
Terri Martin of Raleigh has not received a support check for her two daughters in five weeks. Martin is an example of someone who will be eligible to join the lawsuit.
"I hope other women will join it, and I may end up doing that myself just to let people know how serious a situation this really is," said Martin.
No one has to tell Harris how serious it is.
"I've got to have some closure put to this. I can't continue living on a daily basis wondering when I'm going to jail," explained Harris.
One of the owners of SMI said he had not seen the lawsuit, but was shocked by the allegations. He says the company feels like it is now in compliance with its contract with the state.
As far as the state goes, the attorney for the two women says it has done everything it could to rectify the situation and will not be named as part of the lawsuit.