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Changes coming to child support collection

Some checks must be sent to Tallahassee instead of being paid at the courthouse. It affects some employers, too.

Changes in state and federal law soon will force some parents who make monthly child support payments at the Citrus County Courthouse to mail their checks to Tallahassee.

A new statewide system, designed to comply with the 1996 Federal Welfare Reform Act, will collect and disburse child support payments through something called the State of Florida Disbursement Unit, but only in the following scenarios:

+ If the person receiving the payment is receiving welfare or public assistance.

+ If the Florida Department of Revenue is involved in the case. (For example: Anyone who has been contacted by the DOR because of a missed payment or late payment, or because they moved without notifying the proper agency.)

Employers who make child support payments for their employees through payroll deduction also will be affected under these scenarios:

+ If the employee's support order was made after Jan. 1, 1994.

+ If DOR is involved in the case.

+ If the person receiving the payment receives welfare.

Participating employers will be sent information specifying which payments should be sent to Tallahassee.

The new system is being phased in this month, with full compliance expected by October.

"Employers and parents who pay child support won't have to figure out on their own where to send their checks," Citrus County Clerk of Court Betty Strifler said in a release. "If their check needs to be sent to Tallahassee they will receive a written notice," and her office will help anyone who is unsure how to make payment.

Strifler said her office will continue to maintain child support records.

A statewide customer service line is being established to handle questions paying parents might previously have asked at the front counter of Strifler's office. "If a local customer wants our help, we're going to help them. We're also going to encourage them to call."

Strifler said the county's existing method of paying child support had been working well for the county.

"We questioned the wisdom of all this at first," she said. "This is the federal government's attempt to improve child support collection."

But the new system, she said, eventually could improve collection and reduce the workload among her staff. "We've seen it working in other states," she said.

Strifler said the new system also will allow employers who deduct for employees in multiple counties to write a single check to Tallahassee, rather than writing different checks for each county.

Payments mailed to Tallahassee, expected to total about $921-million annually for about 535,000 cases statewide, will be processed within 48 hours by a private contractor managed by the non-profit Florida Association of Court Clerks and Comptrollers.

Strifler said her office in the past typically processed payments within 24 hours.