By SCOTT AIKEN - H-P Staff Writer
A new state law allows judges to suspend those licenses, as well as hunting and fishing licenses, for violations of court-ordered parenting time.
Laws that go into effect this month also allow a court to order a parent's car immobilized by "booting" for such violations.
Tom Watson, director of Berrien County Friend of the Court office, said the provisions are among nine new laws enacted in late 2009 pertaining to children of divorced or separated parents.
The Friend of the Court office is responsible for making recommendations to Berrien County Trial Court about child support, custody and parenting time arrangements. The office also enforces court orders for those matters.
Speaking to Berrien County commissioners Thursday, Watson said Michigan is one of a handful of states that require parents who divorce or don't live together to allow former spouses to have designated time with their children.
The times are spelled out in court orders, and for violations, judges now have the discretion to suspend licenses and "boot" vehicles.
License reinstatement requires payment of a $45 fee and a certificate from the FOC stating that the parent is in compliance with the court order.
Other law changes
Another change in the law reduces the maximum income withholding for child support from 65 percent to 50 percent of a payer's net disposable income.
Legislation also eliminated an automatic assessment of surcharges for unpaid child support. Starting Jan. 1, 2011, courts will have the authority to assess surcharges on a case-by-case basis if there's a finding of willful noncompliance with a court order.
Watson said a law that went into effect in 1996 assessed an 8 percent surcharge twice a year to any unpaid support.
The idea was to give non-custodial parents an incentive to pay support, Watson said, "but it's buried people."
The surcharge amount was reduced in 2006 to tie it to the five-year average of interest rates on treasury notes.
Aside from the impact on individual payers, Watson said, the high interest rate and frequent compounding created a huge statewide total of IOU money that is unlikely to ever be paid.
At the end of 2009, the statewide total of unpaid child support was more than $9 billion, and half of the amount is surcharges. Surcharges totaled $250 million in 2009 alone.
Many people who pay court-ordered child support earn low wages and, for them, the surcharges are particularly burdensome.
Watson said 54 percent of child support payers in Michigan report income of less than $10,000 annually. They account for 77 percent of the total past due support payments.