The previous post (Jan '09) regarding horrible service by the florida state disbursement unit (SDU) towards a non-custodial father had salient points. My experience has been similar.
The florida child support enforcement system has large gaps in quality of service and accountability for accuracy of records that cause non-custodial parents unnecessary grief and trouble. The clerk of court typically has final responsibility for accurately maintaining information on child support payments made by non-custodial parents; my experience has been that the clerk of court provided accurate (if not entirely timely) service.
The real problem falls between the FL SDU and the FL office of Child Support Enforcement (CSE), and neither office/system is staffed, motivated, or professional enough to maintain an accurate payment record on their own. The SDU receives the actual support payments from my government pay office. My government pay office sends the support payments during the first week of each month, and many payments are reflected online soon after(www.myfloridacounty.com).
Some payments, however, do not get posted by SDU until the last week of the month. A number of years ago the problem was that SDU so severely lacked modern financial technology and services that they could not accept electronic payments. This forced my government pay office to cut a paper check and mail it to SDU. FL has since corrected this problem, but nevertheless my support payments always arrived during the month in which they were due.
This led to the second problem, which was in the FL CSE system's procedures. Specifically, if a support payment appeared to be 10 or more days late, FL CSE would send me a threatening letter. Because of the SDU's antiquated technology/processes and the SDU's inability to promptly post all support payments made on my behalf by my government pay office, added to the CSE policy of allowing just 10 grace days, I received a number of these threatening letters.
Each time I dutifully went to a local CSE office and signed in, waited a little less than an hour each time, and explained to the CSE worker that my support payment was made automatically, provided documentation from my government pay office to show that payment had been made on time, and was then told to just ignore the threatening letter. A CSE worker eventually explained that state law would only allow for a negative action to be started against me if I was more than 30 days late on my support payment.
Even though my support payments were never 30 days late, I continued to receive threatening letters. My solution was to pay an entire month's support in advance so that I would maintain a credit balance.
The next problem was that the SDU's records regarding payment never quite matched the CSE system's records. Fortunately, the clerk of court records seemed to be correct; each time I received a threatening letter I learned to obtain a copy of the clerk of court record, which I would take to the FL CSE office. However, a system that requires the victim of bad reporting to transport the correct record to the office which habitually fails to maintain accurate records is a poor model, and inexusable from a government system.
These were not one-time problems... they were not exceptions to the rule. These were problems that occured regularly enough that the personnel at my local CSE office began to recognize me on sight and call me by name. I found, however, that I received better service by being polite and trying to empathize with their under-staffed, under-trained conditions... than the guy in the next cubicle over who was ranting and swearing. It was EASY for me to sympathize with that angry guy, but when dealing with the poor, long-suffering servant of a faceless bureaucracy, it's best to hold your tongue, count to 10, and smile.
Anyhow, once I paid my child support ahead one month and established a credit balance, I still had two more problems. One was that the SDU and CSE did not seem to know what to do with a credit balance. The extra funds disappeared from my account statement, and I had to be persistent over many months, repeatedly showing where I had paid by my own check (vs. the regular monthly electronic transfer from my gov't pay office) and that the check had been deposited by FL SDU, to finally get credit. I had a couple representatives tell me that my extra support payment was a voluntary payment, a gift to my ex-spouse (!) and that I could not carry credit over to the next month. This was simply untrue, but I did not have the time to administer IQ tests to the respective staffs in order to confirm my hypothesis as to why service was so poor.
My other problem was that the FL CSE system reported my child support account as unpaid to the credit reporting bureaus, even though ALL my support obligations had been paid in the month in which they were due. Worse, getting the negative information removed from my credit report was a byzantine process. When I tried to refute the credit report information, FL CSE informed the credit bureaus that the negative information was accurate. I tried contacting the CSE office in Pensacola listed as making the inaccurate report, but the phone number provided on the credit report was dead. Neither could the standard FL CSE phone numbers get me a rep who could tell me how to remove the false, negative information from my credit report. All the while the clerk of court records showed all payments on time, no late payments, no missed payments. I finally found a supervisor at the local CSE office who let me sit in her office while she called the credit bureau and stayed on the line for nearly half an hour to have the negative information removed from my credit history.
The FL child support enforcement system eventually did not treat me like a criminal, but at first it did. Sadly, the large amount of time I spent fixing egregious errors by SDU and CSE staff was probably indicative of the experience of many non-custodial payers. The system should not force people who are following the rules to waste so much of their time. I cherish my time with my children, and the CSE system detracts from my enjoyment of that time. There were times when I could not wait for the kids to grow up simply so I could be DONE with the lack of professionalism and lack of competence that I was made to suffer at the hands of FL SDU and FL CSE.
Panama City, Florida