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For Many Families, Child Support Laws Not Paying Off

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SANFORD — North Carolina says it's "cracking down" on deadbeat parents. But a lot of custodial parents say new laws still aren't getting them the money they need.

Judges are seeing the same faces in their courtrooms month after month. WRAL's Amanda Lamb recently spent a day in a Lee County child support court where parents are involved in 45 separate cases, fighting for a combined total of $375,000.

Child support court is a revolving door where men and women continue to walk away from their responsibilities, owing anywhere from a couple hundred dollars to tens of thousands of dollars.

Brenda White, the assistant Lee County attorney, says custodial parents just want help supporting their children.

"Money is what they need and money is the basis of court-ordered child support," says White.

But women like Sharon Tibbitts say they are not getting it, and they want to know why.

"My question is if North Carolina is supposed to be so tough on deadbeat dads, why weren't his wages garnished?" asks the mother of two.

Tibbitts is owed $3,045 for the support of her children. On this day, her ex-husband doesn't show up for court; the judge orders a warrant for his arrest.

"If you don't make car payments they come and get it. If you don't make a house payment they move you out. Now what are we going to do about not paying child support?" she asks.

Kelly McCauley's ex-husband owes $3,600 for the support of her three daughters.

"He's planning to move to Montana and he will not pay," says McCauley.

McCauley's ex-husband comes to court, but leaves before the judge can rule on the case. Another arrest warrant is issued.

"I need his help, I have to have his help. My children have to have his help," says McCauley.

"My whole purpose is not to put people in jail because I would rather they be out working, earning money and paying child support," says White.

But what if they do not work?

Pete Smith had neck surgery which he says kept him out of work for two years. He owed a whopping $5,300, but the judge believed he could not work and forgave the back child support.

"If the kid is yours you should have to pay for it," says Smith. "It wasn't something I was trying to get out of. It was something that happened to me that I got behind."

There is another side to this controversial issue. Sam McDonald pays his child support, but does not get to see his kids.

"I fathered the children, I'm obligated to pay to take care of them," says McDonald. "When I don't get to see them it's like a black hole. You're putting money into something you don't get to see."

Despite complaints, the state has made progress. Last year $350 million in child support was collected from parents in North Carolina. That total is up more than 50 percent since 1993.

"I think there have been some really great strides made and I do realize there are a lot of women out there and men who are still dissatisfied with the system," says White. "We do the best we can with what we have to work with."

But if parents do not have the money, we will continue to see long lists on courthouse walls.

"If they don't have it, I can't get it. And putting them in jail is not going to solve anything," says White.

Since 1995, the state has passed several tough laws geared at getting child support.

The state can garnish a working person's paycheck or income tax refund. The state can also revoke the driving, business or recreational license of a person who doesn't pay.

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Amanda Lamb, Reporter
Joe Frieda, Photographer
Michelle Singer, Web Editor

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