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Child-support collections down PDF Print E-mail
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Written by Andrew Wolfe   

CONCORD – People working for a living may be first to feel the effects of a down economy, but their children won't be far behind.

Child-support collections in New Hampshire have dropped slightly, about 3 percent, comparing the last six months to the same period one year earlier, according to state Department of Health and Human Services spokeswoman Mary Weatherill.

Still more telling of the times, the amount of money collected from garnishing wages has dropped, while the amount collected from garnishing unemployment compensation, a relatively small figure, has risen nearly 90 percent, Weatherill said.

Weatherill ran numbers on the Division of Child Support Services collections for the first 24 weeks of the current federal fiscal year, which began Oct. 1. She also retrieved the same numbers for the first 24 weeks of the 2008 federal fiscal year, for comparison.

The state collects support for roughly 50,000 children in New Hampshire, from about 35,000 parents, Weatherill said.

"Caseload has not changed, and the amount of kids has not changed," Weatherill said, so the drop in collections means that those children, like so many adults, must make do with less.

The state collected $38,924,860 in child-support payments in the first 24 weeks of the current fiscal year, Weatherill said. Most of that money came from wages or income withholdings.

Collections from unemployment rose 90 percent, from $135,063 in 24 weeks last year to $255,269 so far this year.

"It's a huge increase when we compare the same time last year," she said, though it doesn't begin to make up for the $593,000 drop in wage withholding.

The amounts collected from federal tax refunds also increased, from just over $1 million last year to $1,505,489 this year, about 43 percent, she said, while direct payments made through the division dropped nearly 14 percent, from $8,237,266 last year to $7,089,632 this year.

"It is a trend that we are experiencing, the effects of the economy on people's ability to keep up with their child-care obligations," Weatherill said. "The unemployment situation is directly related to the problem."

While some parents are simply falling behind, others are seeking court orders to reduce their support payments. Staff at Hillsborough County Superior Court in Nashua said they have seen a sharp increase in the number of people filing requests to reduce child support payments, either as a result of layoffs or reduced hours and income.

The court serves Nashua and a dozen surrounding towns. The court used to see about 100 requests to reopen domestic cases every month. About three months ago, it spiked by about 25 percent, according to court staff.

Cases can be reopened for various reasons, including a change in custody, but requests to reduce child support are by far the most common, and a loss of job is by far the most common reason, she said.

In January and February of 2008 combined, Court Clerk Marshall Buttrick said, the court received 166 requests to reopen domestic cases, while there were 205 such requests – an increase of about 23 percent – during the same months this year.

Once a request for modification is filed, it takes time to mail out copies to the other parent, give the other parent time to respond, schedule a hearing and get an order. Delays are longest in Hillsborough and Cheshire counties, where the courts don't have independent family divisions, Weatherill said.

"There is quite a delay. People are filing for modifications, and they are being told it will take about five months before they get a hearing" in those two counties, Weatherill said.

Elsewhere in the state, in the family division courts, she said, "Those cases are being heard much quicker . . . a matter of weeks versus a matter of months in some cases."

If a judge agrees to modify a support order, however, the change typically will be backdated to the time of the request, so it's important that parents file requests sooner than later if their economic circumstances have changed, Weatherill said.

People who can't afford to pay their child support typically can't afford to hire a lawyer to help reduce it, which often makes things more difficult, court staff said.

Andrew Wolfe can be reached at 594-6410 or

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