A Fairfax County woman who said he must remain anonymous because her ex-husband is "very violent," aced what she calls a "desperate situation" when she was divorced in 1964 and left with an 11-year-old son to raise.
When her husband scoffed at court-ordered child support and alimony payments, falling $2,000 in arrears, it took the Fairfax County Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court "one year to get him into court and another year to collect the money?" she recalled. During that period she was evicted from her apartment three times.
Today she no longer fears eviction because of a newly-formed enforcement unit at the court that keep in frequent contact with her ex-husband, badgers him into paying regularly and threatens him with quick legal action - such as a jail term - if he does not.
"The workers in the new unit," said the Fairfax woman, who is in her late 40s, "deserve the biggest pat on the back."
Before the enforcement unit was established last year, those parents who were not receiving the court-ordered support payments from their former spouses could only write the court, she said. Because there were only two probation officers who were over-burdened with delinquent child support cases.
Now, however, the woman said she regularly telephones Joan Blackburn, one of the new court officers, who is in frequent contact with the woman's husband. If his payment will be delayed, Blackburn is able to warn the woman. In this way, "she keeps me out of trouble because I have a month to scrape together the rent," the woman said. "She really puts me at ease."
Court orders for child support and alimony "aren't worth 2 cents if they aren't obeyed," the woman said.
The enforcement unit is a pilot project set up in September, 195, with a grant of $87,000 from the U.S. Law Enforcement Assistance Administration. Each Week a computer automatically spews forth the names of more than 800 child support cases on the books of the Fairfax court. All of the delinquents are men.
If the six-member unit's telephone calls and reminder-letters don't bring results, then court action is taken even if the spouse who is not getting the money has not asked for it. If he still refuses to pay, the delinquent parent then is put on probation or into jail.
There currently are about five or six people serving jail sentences for failure to make child support payments, according to Ronald I. Merelman, one of the new court agents. Since the unit is trying to collect money, Merelman admits that "jail is not a great solution."
"Our main function is to enforce support orders, that is, collect money," Merelman said. "The more money we collect, the less people have to go on welfare."
The enforcement unit's goal is to maintain a collection rate of at least 70 per cent for all support orders, the staff said.
According to statistics released by the program's directors for the first four months of 1976, the collection rate was 72 per for the same period in 1975.
The 12 per cent increase, which continued throughout 1976, according to George R. Augsburger, director of the court support services, meant about $125,000 more was collected during the first four months of last year than in the January-to-April period in 1975. No precise statistics are available for the entire year.
In cases where the court officers have no enforcement powers, such as when request are made to other states to collect money from parents residing there, the collection rate dipped slightly (.72 per cent) compared to 1975, according to the unit's figures.
Merelman said the unit tries to do more than just collect money. "We are a full-service unit," he said. Besides following up on delinquent parents, he said, the unit provides counseling for divorced and separated couples when it is necessary.
Corliss Randolph of Fairfax County is another person who said she believes the court now is doing a better job. Randolph, who is supposed to get $40 a week in support for her 11- and 12-year-old daughters, said, "At first (before the unit was formed), it seemed that nobody really cared. But now, each person has got a counselor." She said that because of the pressure placed on her former husband by the court unit to make child support payments, she now receives the money on a more regular basis.
In about 400 of the 800 delinquent cases, the parent is not hiding from the law, according to the official. These fathers most often say they cannot pay, Merelman said, because they are unemployed or "temporarily low on funds."
Sometimes, the enforcement agents will ask the court to lower the amount of the support payment if they think the father is being asked to pay too much, the court officials said.
In a little more than 400 negligent cases, the parent is missing and the enforcement unit must find him. "We aren't primarily a locating service," said Merelman, "but this becomes necessary as part of our job."
When necessary, court agents call police, the Postal Service (for forwarding addresses), military authorities and the Division of Motor Vehicles to find run-away parents. "In 24 states I can get an immediate response from the Division of Motor Vehicles when I call to check on a parent," Merelman said.
If local efforts fail, a request to find the parent is sent to the Virginia State Welfare Department in Richmond. If the state gets no results, the location request is sent to a federally-run parent locator service in Washington, which uses the resources of the Internal Revenue Service and Social Security Administration, as a last resort to locate an errant parent.
The Fairfax enforcement unit has even reached as far away as Guam to locate a father deliquent in his child support payments. A Fairfax restaurant manager left for Guam shortly after a July, 1975, court order directed him to pay $100 monthly towards the support of his 5-year-old-child in Annandale.
Assisted by leads from the man's former wife, one of the court enforcement officers telephoned Guam authorities and learned he had gone to Hawaii. Hawaiian officials are now on his trail with a summons to appear in court and "show cause" why he has neglected to pay more than $1,200 in child support.
The father has not yet paid up, but the increased staff of the court enforcement unit will be able to pursue him until he does, court officers said.