MCKEE: Failure to pay child support could result in revoked DNR license

There is no way around it — the pandemic has put our way of living as we knew it in an upheaval. It has brought many changes to what was previously considered “normal,” including changes to how child support orders are enforced. Bearing in mind the impact the pandemic has had on both the payer and payee as well as on our ability to safely pursue in-person support enforcement measures, the friend of the court has continued enforcing payment of child support by increasing its use of some different enforcement tools.

In the past, many child support orders were enforced through in-person show cause hearings in front of a referee. With the public having limited access to the law and courts building because of COVID, we have not been able to hold in-person show cause hearings. However, a show cause hearing is only one of many enforcement tools available to the FOC to ensure a party is regularly paying child support. Several other enforcement tools available include calling payers directly to obtain a payment, intercepting tax refunds; intercepting bank accounts; wage withholdings; placing holds on passports; and suspending professional licenses, drivers’ licenses, and recreational licenses.

Over the course of the COVID pandemic, we have increased our calls to payers to work with them directly to obtain voluntary payments. We also started looking into other tools available to us that we could increase using and one tool stood out — suspending Michigan Department of Natural Resources licenses. The process of DNR license suspension is not new. However, technology advancements have allowed for better communications between the DNR and point-of-sale locations and made the process for suspension of recreational hunting and fishing licenses simpler. These improvements compelled us to move forward with pursuing DNR license suspensions.

Before suspending a payer’s DNR license, the payer must owe child support arrears of more than two months of the monthly support obligation. If a payer meets the arrears requirement, we attempt to contact the payer by either phone or letter. When we reach a payer, we discuss their current situation and see what agreement we can reach to prevent the suspension from moving forward. If no contact is made, we move forward with the suspension. Once the suspension has taken place, the payer can still contact us, and we will discuss on a resolution that will hopefully work for all parties involved.

In order to receive their license back, the payer needs to contact their local friend of the court and let them know about their current situation. The caseworker will work with the payer on an obtainable agreement to bring the payer into compliance with their support order so the license suspension can be lifted by the court. 

It is important to keep in contact with the friend of the court if you receive a notice that your DNR license could be suspended as there are penalties outside of the FOC that can be imposed for hunting or fishing without a license, including up to 90 days in jail and/or fines up to $500 plus additional fines depending on the type of game that is acquired without a license.

To many living in the state of Michigan, hunting, fishing and the outdoor is a way of life and given the rural area that our county covers, the same is true. So much that the DNR typically sells more than 1 million fishing licenses and half a million hunting licenses every year. Additionally, in 2020 the DNR sold more than 200,000 off road vehicle licenses and more than 150,000 trail use permits.

Will suspending DNR recreational licenses make a difference in terms of the FOC receiving regular support payments for families and children? It appears so, as our office has collected more than $4,500 since starting to suspend DNR recreational licenses in November 2020. 

APRIL McKEE is an enforcement caseworker for Cass County Friend of the Court. Questions or suggestions for future columns may be sent to foc@cassco.org.

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