Pursuit of 'deadbeats' is paying off

AIKEN --- Targeting parents with outstanding child support payments has helped the Aiken County Sheriff's Office and court system shave more than 2,000 warrants off their books in the past two years.

Fathers owing more than $20,000 in child support payments have been dubbed "deadbeats" by officers when selecting which warrants to single out. More than 40 dads are on the latest lists, according to Lt. Larry Schrade, who has led the deadbeat dad project since 2008. Ten mothers owing more than $15,000 were also singled out on the latest installment from the sheriff's office.

"There's no real definition, but we coined that term when targeting parents that are not taking care of their moral responsibility," Schrade said.

Of the county's 12,000 outstanding warrants, 1,183 are Family Court bench warrants, which often are for parents with unpaid child support, Schrade said.

The county began the second year of the deadbeat program last month after several cases reached thousands of dollars in outstanding payments. The increase is partially attributed to higher unemployment, said Beth Willis, Aiken County's chief deputy clerk.

"There are always different scenarios, but lately it's that they've been laid off and they're trying to take care of other bills or households," she said.

Even with financial strains, Schrade said, it's hard to believe that the majority are just down on their luck.

"Folks are having tough times for whatever reason, but I think in reality most of them know, especially when we get up to the numbers we've been releasing lately," he said. "I can't imagine how someone can incur $20,000 and say they didn't know."

Living next to state lines also provides an easy escape route.

"People will move to Augusta and know we can't do anything, so we just have to wait for them to come back to South Carolina," Schrade said.

Georgia's Division of Child and Social Services has also taken notice of Aiken's tactics.

Renorta Heard, the division's deputy director, said Aiken County's system is simpler than anything the division is doing with most wanted lists throughout the state. The division handles cases for all Georgia counties.

"In the last few months we have taken note of the process in Aiken County and are currently doing some research for possible implementation," she said. "But we want to make sure it's something we can do statewide and not just in isolated counties.

More than 3,000 cases are considered outstanding in Richmond, Columbia and Burke counties, according to Sandra Jarrett, of the child support services offices.

Jarrett said while it might seem like a lot of cases, delinquency just means that the amount isn't paid in full, not that the parents aren't paying or have other outstanding warrants.

"We're very fortunate that many of these parents do come in and try to find a way to pay even a little bit," she said. "And many that aren't coming in are afraid of being arrested by just coming into our offices. That isn't the case; this isn't the courthouse."

From June through August, the three counties issued only 126 arrest warrants for outstanding cases, and most of those are already resolved, Jarrett said.

Parents feeling bogged down by payments are often referred to community resources, such as the Georgia Fatherhood program, to help them get on track with payments.

Since Aiken County began the lists in August, six parents have come forward to settle their cases, according to Schrade.

Deadbeat parents

Aiken County Sheriff's Office identifies "deadbeat" parents as those with outstanding arrest warrants and more than $15,000 in unpaid child support.

More than 40 dads are on the latest lists, according to Lt. Larry Schrade, who has led the deadbeat dad project since 2008. Ten mothers were also singled out.

Source: Aiken County Sheriff's Office

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