Regional child support office part of more aggressive approach by state

Dee Hammons, left, county office manager for Child Support Enforcement Division, left, talks with the deputy director Cathi Valdes on Thursday at the Clovis office. (Staff photo: Eric Kluth)

By David Irvin: CNJ staff writer

In 2003, the child support division of the New Mexico Human Services Department collected $3.4 million for families in Curry and Roosevelt counties.

With the opening of a regional office in Clovis, state officials are hoping to collect even more.

The Clovis child support enforcement office has been operating as a satellite office to the Roswell regional office, reporting all information to them rather than the state office in Santa Fe, said Cathi Valdes, deputy director for child support in New Mexico.

“This will give us much better enforcement capabilities so we can bring in more money for the children,” she said. “It’s all about the children.”

During the last legislative session, human services received additional funding for the establishment of two regional offices, one in Clovis and one in Silver City.
She said child support compliance is a statewide issue, and because of the rapid growth in this area, the state human services department decided to place a regional office here.

“It’s simply a community need to facilitate the growth,” she said. “I don’t believe unpaid child support is a problem for one area more than another in New Mexico. It’s a statewide problem.”

One of the methods used most to enforce child support is withholding wages from delinquent parents, said Dee Hammons who will head up the new Clovis office. Hammons emphasized that her office first wants to contact the delinquent parent and convince them to comply with the court mandate.

If wage garnishment is unsuccessful, they will also try to get the delinquent parent into court to answer a contempt of court charge stemming from non-payment. Ultimately they could seek a bench warrant for the arrest of the parent, she said.

“The community can expect more money coming into the families needing it,” she said. “It’s our goal to get them (delinquent parents) into compliance rather than put them into jail.”

Valdes said aggressive enforcement in the last few years has increased the percentage of child support dollars collected by the department. In 2001 the department collected and redistributed about 53 percent of child support funds mandated by courts, and this year they have collected about 59 percent, constituting $82 million redistributed to families across the state, according to Valdes.

Despite the increased success over the past few years, the number of new cases the human services department handles every month continues to hover around 1,000, Valdes said.

She said federal laws are now in place that allow her office to refer cases to other states and take on cases from other states, making it more difficult for delinquent parents to dodge their obligations by state-hopping.

“There are interstate laws that allow us to enforce cases in other states (over state lines), and that falls under UIFSA (uniform interstate family support act),” she said.

Contact info
The child support division of the New Mexico Human Services Department opened a regional office in Clovis recently:
Location: 1619 Sutter Place
Phone: 763-7203
Web site: www.state.nm.us/hsd/csed.html

Source: New Mexico Department
of Human Services