PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — If you’re waiting on a child support payment in Rhode Island, you’re not alone. Eyewitness News has learned Rhode Island ranks towards the bottom of the pack when it comes to tracking down past due and missing child support payments.
It may not seem like a whole lot but to Nathan Matthews, but $120 a week means giving his 9-year-old daughter the life she ought to have.
“My daughter is my life and I want to make sure that she does everything in the world that she wants to do,” said the Lincoln father.
Matthews’ story is unique. Unlike many divorced dads, he has sole custody of his daughter Akoda.
According to the state of Rhode Island Office of Child Support Enforcement, in more than 90 percent of cases, the father is the non-custodial parent. In Matthews’ situation, his ex-wife pays her child support in full and on time. However, due to problems with the state’s Office of Child Support Enforcement, Matthews told Eyewitness News the payments don’t always show up in his Rhode Island Kids Care support account.
- Interactive: R.I. Child Support by the Numbers
“It’s magical money because it’s just money that disappears and nobody knows where it goes,” he said. Speaking about his daughter, he said “she deserves the best life possible and unfortunately sometimes when that money doesn’t come in, I can’t provide for her.”
Matthews says he’s been trying to get to the bottom of the problem. He’s double-checked banking statements, he’s taken time out of work to attend family court appointments, he said he’s even had a child support judge tell him the state in fact owes him money. Still, the payments are spotty.
“I have literally cried,” he said. “It’s emotionally battering to walk into the same building for the fifteenth time to get no response, get no resolution whatsoever.”
Eyewitness News has learned that whether it’s payments gone missing or cracking down on deadbeat parents with delinquent payments, Rhode Island lags behind the rest of the country in terms of child support enforcement.
According to data from the state of Rhode Island Office of Child Support Enforcement, as of the end of 2013, only 51 percent of Rhode Island parents owing child support paid in full and on time. Furthermore, the state collected just 56 percent of the money owed, landing Rhode Island at the bottom of the rankings: 46 out of 55 jurisdictions.
In total, Rhode Islanders owe more than $238 million in overdue, court-ordered child support. Though high, officials from the Office of Child Support Enforcement said the total in overdue payments includes all support since the inception of the program in 1974.
“It’s challenging,” said Sharon Santilli with the Office of Child Support Enforcement. “The average case load is about 3,000 cases per agent here at child support, which is why we try to automate much as we can.”
Since 2008, the office has lost a third of its staff to budget cuts. Santilli told us the child support system in Rhode Island is going through its growing pains and has instituted new tools, including quarterly state police sweeps and a program using cell phones to track down deadbeat parents with overdue payments.
“I think in some areas we are doing well and others we need to work on it,” Santilli added.
State officials said the changes are all part of an effort to put money back into the child support system and ensure parents like Nathan Matthews receive what they are due.