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With Illinois' new "Deadbeats Don't Drive" law taking effect July 1, court cases are being filed asking judges to suspend the drivers licenses of parents who have failed to pay child support.

Courts around the state are using the threat of a drivers license suspension to help pressure the state's estimated 700,000 deadbeat parents into paying what they owe their families, about 200,000 of whom are on welfare.

We are putting deadbeats all over Illinois on notice: Pay up or be prepared to pull over.

In Champaign County, for instance, State's Attorney John Piland brought 16 cases to court July 1 seeking to collect more than $111,000 in unpaid child support for 26 children.

Meanwhile, officials in several other counties - including Cook, DuPage, Kane, Madison and St. Clair -said asking for a deadbeat's drivers license would become standard practice in their courts beginning July 1. Our office has worked closely with county officials statewide in putting the new law to work.

Too many deadbeats escape their responsibilities by leaving town, quitting their jobs or getting paid in cash. But they cannot hide from a drivers license suspension.

Illinois license suspensions are honored by 40 other states and the District of Columbia, limiting a dead-beat's options for getting a new license elsewhere. In Illinois, driving on a suspended license is a Class A misdemeanor, punishable by up to a year in jail plus a $1,000 fine.

I hope enforcement of the "Deadbeats Don't Drive" law will let Illinois share in the success of similar laws in more than 20 other states, which have found that the mere threat of losing their drivers licenses is enough to make many of these deadbeats pay up. For instance, Maine has collected nearly $48 million from about 16,000 deadbeats over the past three years while suspending just 238 licenses.

Our goal is not to suspend drivers licenses but to make parents face up to their financial and moral duties.

Unlike many other states, Illinois' deadbeats law -formally known as the Family Financial Responsibility Law - is initiated by a court action. After finding a non-paying parent in contempt of court for falling more than 90 days behind in child support payments, a judge orders the Secretary of State's office to suspend that parent's drivers license.

Our office provides the deadbeat parent with 60 days notice before suspending the license. Parents can avoid a suspension either by meeting the court's demands or showing in a hearing that the notice was issued mistakenly.

Once suspended, a deadbeat can ask the court for a Family Financial Responsibility Driving Permit to drive to work or to get medical care.

Non-payment of child support is the number one reason why single mothers go on welfare. Our welfare rolls would be cut by a third if everyone who owed child support paid up. If we can use this law to get more dead-beats to pay, far more children will be getting the kind of education, clothing, food, toys and other benefits they deserve.

More than a third of child support cases in Illinois are represented by the state Department of Public Aid, which is attempting to collect $1.3 billion on behalf of more than 200,000 families. In all, the agency represents about 564,000 families, of whom about 227,000 receive welfare payments.

All parents, regardless of whether they receive welfare payments, are entitled to seek assistance from the public aid agency in collecting child support. The toll-free help number is 1-800-447-4278.

Champaign is among 15 Illinois counties whose state's attorneys work with Public Aid to collect child support. The others are Boone, Cook, DeKalb, DuPage, Edgar, Kane, Kankakee, Knox, Lake, Macon, Madison, Peoria, Sangamon and St. Clair. Public Aid cases in the state's remaining counties are handled by the Attorney General's office.

September 1996 / Illinois Municipal Review / Page 9

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