I-Team: Why are deadbeat parents not getting punished for failing to pay child support?

CUYAHOGA COUNTY, Ohio-The FOX 8 I-Team has found deadbeat parents not getting hauled into criminal court and punished for not paying child support. So we’re investigating why and getting action.

The I-Team found a stunning drop in Cuyahoga County with the number of dads and moms facing charges for not paying child support. The number has dropped by two-thirds. In Cuyahoga County, tens of thousands of parents get behind on paying, but so far this year only 67 cases have been sent to prosecutors.

Those figures alarm Michelle Champoir. Her case shows her ex owes her nearly $25,000. She said, “It angers me. It seems like the wheels of enforcing the support are so, so slow.” Champoir added, "I was absolutely horrified, wondering, ‘What are they doing?’ Because it’s not that all these people have decided to pay their support."

We went to Deborah Watkins, the head of Child Support Services for Cuyahoga County. We asked why the county is letting people who don’t pay off the hook? She answered, “We're not letting people off the hook who don't pay child support."

Watkins says Cuyahoga County first wants to work with people and help them find jobs. Prosecution should be a last resort. But we asked, what does that mean, exactly? Watkins responded, “We have to work every single case on a case by case basis."

Cuyahoga County prosecutors say they’ve recently gone after deadbeats owing more than $50,000, $33,000, $23,000 and more. But they need the child support office to send those cases to them.

Assistant Cuyahoga County Prosecutor Lisa Mahnic said, "Those cases need to come to us so we can do our job."

She added, “There is that small group of individuals that will feed their habit before they feed their children. They need to go to jail."

The I-Team investigation is now leading to action. The Cuyahoga County Prosecutor's Office says since we started asking questions about the drop in cases hauled into criminal court, prosecutors and child support officials have started to meet to talk about what needs to change.

Michelle Champoir wants change now. She said, "It's a very inefficient system and ineffective system, and I think it needs to be fixed."

Meantime, we have not seen big changes in how these cases are handled in other counties.

In Summit County, there were 103 indictments in 2015, 120 in 2016, and 108 for 2017-to date.

In Lorain County, there were 740 “active cases” in 2015, 700 active cases in 2016, and there are currently 700 active cases.