Howard Lake Herald, May 11, 1998

Child support system fails, few explanations


"I just want to have someone else benefit from my experience," said Maureen Larkin-Hoover of Howard Lake, as she unloaded a large box of forms and papers to share from her attempts to collect support for her son as a single parent after her divorce in 1994.

Larkin-Hoover has never received a penny of child support from her former husband, the late Jerry Luallen of California.

To get out of an abusive relationship with her husband and to be near her family for emotional support, she moved to Minnesota.

After her divorce, she filed her case with Scott County Child Support.

She started filling out forms, and there never seemed to be an end to them, she said.

"I've been willing to fill out any amount of paper work required to do the job, as many times as they want me to," said Larkin-Hoover.

Filling out those forms was sometimes uncomfortable. It was degrading to have to answer some of the questions, she said.

Those questions were intended for unmarried mothers on assistance, she said, but the support was the most important thing, so she did it.

She signed papers that gave Scott County exclusive rights to pursue child support payments from Luallen.

The documents from Scott County stated that it would be the county's responsibility to locate the absent parent for purposes of enforcing child support.

The county stated in the papers that it would establish paternity, contact the absent parent, enforce the current court ordered obligation, monitor child support payment records, implement income withholding orders, enforce court ordered health insurance provisions, and do tax offset filing, if appropriate for arrearage collection.

It continues: "The purpose of the service is enforcement of current support, however, an effort is made to collect delinquencies. Records are carefully maintained and monitored."

A disclaimer does appear. It says that individual workers handle 400 to 500 cases each, and this limits their ability to provide personal service.

Larkin-Hoover provided her caseworker with addresses of Luallen's home, work place (Anderson Trucking, St. Cloud), relatives, phone numbers, and any other information it requested.

"When the county asked for a photo, I thought, 'Oh, boy. They are really going to look for him,'" she said.

Nothing happened.

They gave her a personal identification number (PIN) and a toll-free phone number to call for updates on her case.

It never worked, she said.

She even talked to a lawyer who said it wasn't worth the money to find Jerry; he would be too hard to track down, she said.

Larkin-Hoover works for a trucking company, and said the company takes child support out of checks all the time. The parents are found through their social security numbers.

She gave Scott County the name of the trucking company in St. Cloud and Luallen's social security number, and that didn't help either.

Skip Humphrey and Tony Onnen received calls from Larkin-Hoover. They were supportive and sympathetic, but could do nothing personally.

Legislative action was what they talked about, but that didn't translate into anything useful for her.

The hardest part, she said, is to read the articles in the Star Tribune about the wonderful things that are done to collect child support from deadbeat parents.

"It is all so political. It all sounds so hopeful," she said.

Reality for her was a different story.

"I was trying to make it on my own, and wasn't on public assistance," she said.

This seemed to make a difference in how she was treated by her caseworker, said Larkin-Hoover.

Another twist in the whole situation is that Larkin-Hoover is the adoptive mother of Luallen's natural child, and she has been the sole support of Chad since the divorce.

Her son has fetal alcohol syndrome and has special needs.

This has made it even harder for her to find the money for medical support for Chad through the years.

Luallen died recently, and Larkin-Hoover called Scott County Child Support to report it.

"They said they were glad I called. Now they can close the case," she said.

"I have faced the fact that I will probably never get anything, but I wish there was some way to help others in the same situation," Larkin-Hoover stated.

Somewhere there is another single parent who is struggling and doesn't want to go on assistance, she said.

"She may see this and say, 'That's my story,'" said Larkin-Hoover.

When Scott County Human Services Director Maila Hedin was contacted about the case, she said, "This one had several problem areas, but it did fall through the cracks, unfortunately."

The first area was the fact that the divorce was not before a judge, and Luallen was served notice by publication.

"Her attorney could have set a dollar amount for child support, but he didn't. It was left to follow guidelines for the dollar amount and was never set," she said.

"Maureen came in to have a dollar amount set, and gave her caseworker the information needed, said Hedin.

Luallen was actually located in March 1997, but never responded with the required information.

There was apparently no follow-up, said Hedin.

That caseworker is no longer working for Scott County, she said.

There has been some major restructuring in the department.

Now, collecting money where there is a dollar amount due is the area where the department is really good, Hedin said.

"About 80 percent of our cases are for parents who receive no assistance and are the working poor," she said.

"I am a little disappointed," said Hedin.

"We expect people to go beyond the caseworker to a supervisor or director, if they are not making any progress. They need to be aggressive on getting results," Hedin said.

"If anyone is having difficulty receiving child support payments, I would urge them to be assertive and ask to speak to a supervisor.

"It is my job to see that these problems are taken care of, and I believe we do a good job of that now," said Hedin.

Hedin has offered to help in any way the county can, if there is a probate for Luallen or perhaps a lawsuit pending in his death.

"If we can establish either of these things, we can file a claim," she said.

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