RICHMOND, JAN. 27 -- The Virginia General Assembly this session will consider far-reaching legislation to improve child support collections, including taking support payments directly out of the paychecks of noncustodial parents and making it easier to establish paternity in court proceedings.
The state's welfare costs would be reduced by an estimated $10 million to $15 million a year if the proposals introduced this week are approved, according to state officials.
"People simply don't have the will to pay. It's not lack of ability to pay," said Harry W. Wiggins, who became director of the division of child support enforcement last year. At any one time, about 85 percent of support payments are delinquent, he said today.
The state's child support system has a history of problems, with a poor record of collecting and distributing child support payments, and has been ordered by the federal government to make improvements to reduce welfare costs. Many children would not be on Virginia's welfare rolls if paternity had been determined and child support collected, state officials said this week.
Gov. Gerald L. Baliles' administration has recommended omnibus legislation aimed at speeding up the process of establishing paternity, reducing appeal time, and giving officials more tools to collect payments.
Most of the governor's package was introduced on Tuesday -- the deadline for bills to be filed -- by Sen. Edward M. Holland (D-Arlington), chairman of the Senate Courts of Justice Committee.
The proposal would require that all support payments be withheld from the noncustodial parent's paycheck as soon as the order is entered. This would not affect about 240,000 current cases, Wiggins said. Under current law, a noncustodial parent must be at least 30 days delinquent in payments before the withholding process begins.
Three states require immediate withholding on the paychecks of parents liable for child support, Wiggins said.
Other parts of the legislation would give Virginia access to financial records, such as bank accounts, individual retirement accounts and stocks and bonds, to determine potential sources of child support.
A separate measure proposed by the Baliles administration, expected to be among the most controversial of the package, would reduce the standard required for establishing paternity from "beyond a reasonable doubt" to "clear and convincing evidence."
That bill was introduced by Del. John G. (Chip) Dicks III (D-Chesterfield).
"A lot of people are on welfare because we can't establish paternity," said Secretary of Human Resources Eva S. Teig, whose department oversees the child support enforcement division.
Wiggins said that paternity needs to be established for more than 60,000 Virginia children, or 62 percent of those children on welfare.
The federal government has told the state it will lose federal funding under Aid to Families with Dependent Children unless it establishes paternity in at least 75 percent of these cases.