Thousands pay child support, but News 5 Investigates discovered their payments don't always go to the custodial parent and child.
Nicholas Turner and Audrey Mead have a two-year-old daughter. Although the couple is not together anymore, Turner wants to be part of his daughter's life and pays child support.
"Money is going missing as I'm paying it," Turner said.
Turner reached out to News 5 Investigates after he noticed not all of the money he was paying ended up in Mead's account.
Court documents show Turner is supposed to pay $366 every month starting in May 2017.
He admits he missed his May payment, but tried to make the situation right the following month.
Accounting ledgers obtained by News 5 show Turner sent Mead a total of $766 through the online child support payment system in June, but the State of Colorado only gave Mead $366 that month.
"No one can tell me where the money is going," Turner said.
Between June 1 and Oct. 31, Turner paid a total of $1,935 in child support, but our investigation found his ex only received $1,396.
Where did the $549 end up?
We spent weeks attempting to follow the money trail and while the Colorado Department of Human Services wouldn't say specifically where the money was deposited, the agency did admit they kept it.
According to a spokesperson for CDHS, because Mead receives other assistance from the State of Colorado, she waives her right to collect past-due child support.
Under the law, a parent in Colorado is entitled to collect child support and additional aid like TANF.
"If all child support payments are kept current, custodial parents receive the full amount of the money that is due to them," CDHS spokesperson Nourie Boraie said via email. "However, in the event that a non-custodial parent misses a child support payment, that child support become becomes overdue. If the non-custodial parent makes future payments that are higher than the designated month's child support amount, federal guidelines require that the over-payment is used to pay back the federal government and Colorado counties for distributing benefit assistance while the child support amount was overdue."
As an example, if a parent is supposed to receive $200/mo in TANF money and $350/mo in child support, the parent loses their right to obtain the $350 in child support if the court-ordered parent pays late.
Unlike credit card companies which will charge interest or penalty fees for late payments, the State of Colorado does not do this---instead, a CDHS spokesperson said the State is entitled to keep the entire past-due amount.
Turner and Mead question why the State is being allowed to keep child support payments, despite the mission of the Colorado Child Support Services Program to "assure that all children receive financial and medical support from each parent".
"When you're expecting the payment (child support) and it doesn't show up, it puts a lot of stress on both me and my ex," Mead said.
"I live pay check to paycheck my entire working career," Turner said. "It doesn't take much to realize that I could go under in a month and I've worked for that money and if it's not going where it needs to, then what's the point of the program?"
In addition to losing child support money, Mead lost out on tax credits and money through TANF. Those benefits were rejected because of her income----income from child support she never received because the State kept it.
"I can't be the only one who seems blown away by this," Mead said. "There's probably people out there who are not amicable with their exes and don't talk and just think that their exes are not paying child support."
Boraie reiterated via email that because Mead receives other financial help, the State is well within its right to keep child support payments and says this information is relayed to parents when they apply for assistance. However, the State could not provide us with any documentation to back up this claim.
Turner also filed an open records request to find out where his missing child support payments were deposited. He also asked for a copy of any contract or agreement showing that the State is entitled to keep child support when payments are made late.
Turner's request was denied. CDHS said the information Turner requested is "confidential" and "not publicly disclosable."
It is unclear at this point in time how much money from child support payments CDHS has collected and where exactly that money is being distributed.
News 5 Investigates will continue asking questions and we will update this story as new information becomes available.
News 5 sent an initial inquiry to CDHS about Turner's case on Oct. 23, 2017.
After several emails and phone conversations, News 5 requested an on-camera interview Nov. 14 to discuss the forfeiture of child support assets and how that money is being spent.
News 5 was advised that no one was available to talk with us.
CDHS sent us this statement which you can read in its entirety.
Frequently asked questions:
Q: If I don't receive any other financial assistance, am I entitled to collect past-due child support?
Q: If I receive financial aid in addition to child support, am I entitled to collect both?
A: Yes. However, you will only receive child support payments that are made on-time. If the other party pays late or over-pays the following month, the State collects that money.
Q: Is the state legally allowed to keep money I send through the child support system?
A: If you pay late and the custodial parent receives any other form of assistance, CDHS says federal guidelines allow them to keep the funds.
Q: Instead of keeping my entire child support payment, why can't the State charge me interest or a late fee?
A: Good question. Unfortunately, state and federal laws would have to change to allow this.
Q: Why didn't we hear from the CDHS on-camera about the child support system?
A: While we always ask for the opportunity to sit down and talk on camera about a problem or issue, we cannot force an agency to talk to us. In lieu of an on-camera interview, CDHS wanted to send a statement. Unfortunately, statements don't always answer every question that would have been asked during a formal interview.
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