Nevada improves child support effort

By the numbers, Clark County District Attorney David Roger’s effort to step up enforcement of child support orders in Nevada’s most populous region is a success.

But the gains he’s made in recent years have done little to leverage the Silver State out of its dismal national showing when it comes to making non-custodial parents financially support their offspring.

On Tuesday, Clark County announced that the district attorney’s family support division collected more than $104 million in child support from 50,110 parents in fiscal year 2006-07. That represents a 10 percent increase in collections made during 2005-06. Overall, there’s been a 45 percent gain since Roger took office in 2003.

Making that progress has been a significant achievement for staff, Roger said, since these cases sometimes involve noncustodial parents who’ll do almost anything to dodge paying support.

“There are a lot of people who don’t want to live up to their moral or legal obligation,” Roger said of divorced parents who change jobs or move out-of-state to make collection more difficult.

But Roger’s campaign to step up child support collections pales beside Nevada’s poor standing in that area.

A 2006 performance audit commissioned by Nevada legislators shows the state ranked 49th in the nation when it comes to collecting child support. The state ranked 48th in the nation for arranging payments in child support cases in arrears.

Nevada also hugged the bottom of state rankings in establishing paternity for children in support cases, obtaining court orders for support payments and running cost-effective collections and enforcement programs.

“Nevada’s child support program has performed poorly compared to other state programs,” auditors said in their report, which also said: “In all five categories the federal government uses to measure performance and provides incentive dollars, Nevada is in the bottom six of the 50 states.”

Clark County accounts for about 71 percent of child support collections in Nevada, the audit said.

Assemblywoman Barbara Buckley, D-Las Vegas, called Nevada’s national standings for child support collection “pathetic.” Children in the state are not receiving the money they are entitled to by court order, Buckley said, which means they may be deprived of things as basic as medical care and shelter.

“It’s unfortunate that we’re still so behind where we need to be as a state. … I think we can certainly get out of 49th place.”

One thing that would help improve collections significantly is upgrading the computer system used by the family support division, said Bob Teuton, assistant district attorney in charge of the family support and juvenile divisions.

Nevada uses NOMADS, a technology Teuton said is both limited and antiquated. Its ability to mine and compile data is poor, and additional staff is required to review simple functions, such as identifying individuals who are in arrears and notifying them about wage garnishment procedures.

The automated system should be a help to the staff, not create more work for them, Teuton said.

NOMADS was purchased about eight years ago, Teuton said.

There are now 22 states examining system upgrades for family support divisions, Teuton said. Nevada isn’t one of them.

Teuton said the district attorney’s office takes about 16,000 child support cases to court each year. About half of those cases involve custodial or noncustodial parents who live in another state.

Over the last four years, Clark County Commissioners have approved 38 new positions for the family support division to help meet the growing demands on that area of the district attorney’s office.

Las Vegas attorney Randall Roske suggested that a more vigorous approach in holding child support scofflaws accountable might also help.

He was in Clark County Family Court on Monday with a client who is owed more than $40,000 in back child support. It was supposed to be a pay or stay proposition for the ex-husband in arrears, that is, cut a check for $800 to his ex-wife or go to jail.

“He didn’t come to court, he didn’t stay and he didn’t pay,” Roske said. “I look at that as an utter failure.”

The ex-husband’s attorney promised the court that a check would be ready Tuesday, Roske said.

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