The Blade (Toledo)

Article published October 2, 2002

Foreclosure eyed as tool in child support

The Blade (Toledo)

If you donít pay your child support, you can lose your driverís license, your savings account, and a host of other things. Now you could lose your house.

Under a plan announced yesterday, Lucas County officials say theyíll begin foreclosing on properties owned by some delinquent parents. While the details are yet to be worked out, they expect to begin action this fall.

The announcement came from Sandy Isenberg, president of the Lucas County commissioners, and Julia Bates, the county prosecutor.

Ms. Isenberg, a Democrat, is involved in a heated race for re-election with Republican Maggie Thurber, who questioned the timing of an announcement for a new program just a month before the election.

But Ms. Isenberg and Ms. Bates, also a Democrat, said they had been talking about such changes for months, and the timing had more to do with continued problems with the state takeover of child-support collections than the election. "If we can help our kids, weíre going to do it - regardless of the political season," Ms. Isenberg said.

The plan, apparently the first of its kind in Ohio, would be the latest evolution of public policy that aims to get "deadbeat" parents to pay their child support.

Since 1994, the countyís Child Support Enforcement Agency has put liens on properties of parents who donít pay their child support. Itís part of an arsenal that includes garnishing wages, suspending driverís licenses, intercepting tax-refund checks, raiding bank accounts, and even sending people to jail for not paying support.

The liens have raked in some cash - $150,000 the last two fiscal years - but thatís still a fraction of the amount owed by the 256 people with liens on their properties. Thatís because those with liens arenít forced to pay up unless they sell the property or refinance the mortgage.

The county has had the option to foreclose, but it was considered too expensive, Ms. Bates said. But the county believes the federal government will help pick up the tab, which would include title work for each property to determine how much equity the owners have.

Steve Armacost, the general counsel of the county child support division, said the new program could be handy in collecting cash from self-employed parents who refuse to pay child support, and whose wages canít be touched.

He and Steve Popadimos, the chief civil prosecutor, said they plan to meet in the coming week to discuss the parameters of the crackdown.

Ms. Thurber, clerk of Toledo Municipal Court, questioned why the program was announced now considering details need to be worked out.

Among them, she said, were how to handle parents who owe money but still have visitation rights with their children. If the house is taken away, the kids wonít have a place to go. "Is the timing suspect? Probably," she said. "Thirty days before the election. ... I find it interesting they want to propose taking an action without any details."

The program was welcomed by Geraldine Jensen, president of the Toledo-based Association for Children for Enforcement of Support. She said prosecutors in other areas sporadically have foreclosed on parents owing child support but have not begun systematic programs like Lucas County plans.

"We certainly do that to collect back taxes, and it seems like children are more important than taxes," Ms. Jensen said.