DHHS: Nearly 30% of parents aren't up to date with child support payments

LINCOLN, Neb. - Every month, custodial parents in Nebraska collect millions of dollars in child support payments. In 2017, parents collected about $217 million. It's a number that seems high, but it should be a whole lot higher.

"It's not as big of problem here as it is in other states, but it's a problem," said Byron Van Patten, the child support enforcement administrator for the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services.

It's a problem for the thousands of parents who aren't getting what they're owed. Julie Sykes and her ex-husband adopted their son Jake when he was two. Sykes has Morquio Syndrome and can't have kids of her own. The father is now out of the picture, and so are his child support payments.

"While he was in the military, they garnished part of his paychecks," she said. "Since he left, it's been terrible."

Sykes believes he's hiding out in Colorado. She's in Lincoln, collecting disability because she can't work, and not collecting child support.

"I live on disability and food stamps," she said. "Now, taxpayers are paying for my child, which the father should be."

She showed 10/11 News the paperwork. Her ex-husband last made his required $900 per month payment in March 2016. Now, with arrears and unpaid interest, he's more than $20,000 behind schedule.

Sykes' case is just one of more than 108,000 child support cases handled by the Nebraska DHHS.

"Sometimes, I have to not pay one bill so I can pay another bill," Sykes said. "Then next month, I have to catch up on the bill I didn't pay."

It's not a unique case. Of the 108,000 cases handled in Nebraska, DHHS said about 30-percent are unpaid or overdue.

"It's safe to say three in ten parents aren't making their child support obligations," Van Patten said.

There are several ways to collect back payments, including:
- Withholding income
- Collecting portions of state and/or federal tax returns
- Pulling money from bank accounts
- Suspending licenses (driver, commercial or professional)

The problem is finding the parents who don't want to pay.

"We stress that we will continue to work on this, that we'll do our best for as long as it takes," Van Patten said.

According to DHHS, the child support staff here in Nebraska surpasses 100 employees. Technology has improved state-to-state communication, but Sykes believes that's where the problem lies.

"He's just getting away with it," she said.

According to her, by time the state figures out where her ex-husband is working or living, he's already quit the job or moved away.

But Van Patten assures parents, his department never stops working to collect. DHHS still works to collect after a child turns 18, sometimes even collecting from social security checks.

"We try to get what we can get," he said. "Any little bit helps."

Every little bit, putting a dent in the tens of millions of dollars still owed to Nebraska Parents.