HOUSTON (AP) — Unpaid child support in Texas stands at nearly $11 billion and state officials say more parents are applying to have their obligations reduced in the weakened economy.
Records obtained by the Houston Chronicle show that of about one million parents across Texas who are required to pay child support, nearly half fell behind on payments last year by at least a month.
State and national authorities say a fluctuating economy and erratic jobless rates are taking a toll on parents who pay child support, though some simply defy orders to pay up. Delinquencies appeared to peak in 2009, the newspaper reported.
According to the Texas attorney general's office, about 46 percent of parents in Dallas County obligated to pay child support are past due.
"We have seen our caseload increase because more parents have applied for enforcement services, perhaps because of custodial parents' reduced earnings due to the economy. We also saw parents who pay child support apply for downward modification," said Janece Rolfe, spokeswoman for the attorney general's child support division.
The government typically collects from unwilling parents by withholding wages, tax refunds, lottery winnings or suspending professional licenses.
The vast majority of parents who have custody rights are women, and in Texas 48 percent of single mothers live in poverty, according to recent census data.
Among the state's top evaders is a 60-year-old bus driver and laborer who owes more than $179,000 to his two sons and is believed to have absconded to Mexico. Tomas Roman was pulled over by police in 2003 on a traffic violation and arrested for failure to pay child support, but even after spending six months in jail, he never paid up.
Experts say parents' delayed or incomplete support produces irreversible consequences for children.
"Children are already going through a lot of stress when parents separate. When you add the potential financial hardship or parents' enmity . it becomes very tough on a child," said Bob Sanborn, president of Children At Risk, an advocacy group for children and education.
(© Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)
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