Really Collecting


Deadbeat dads have been outrunning state officials with ease for years. But now fathers on the lam (over 90 percent of the parents delinquent on child-support payments are men) are finding for-profit collection agencies hot on their heels.

Private child-support collection companies have popped up in at least 21 states in recent years, Charles Drake, a collection-agency consultant, told The New York Times. Bill collectors such as James Jones, founder of Child Support Services in Norfolk, Virginia, are discovering that the states' dismal record for collecting child support has created a market for private collectors. In 1990, delinquent payments totaled $23.8 billion nationwide, of which state agencies had managed to collect only about 20 percent.

Jones's service, like most of the private child-support collection companies, has two important advantages over state agencies: His company will track down a delinquent dad regardless of where he moves or how often, while state collectors drop a case once the offending parent moves to another jurisdiction. And Child Support Services doesn't handle cases for families on welfare, which states tend to concentrate on.

Jones has been able to locate about 85 percent of the missing parents he has sought, reports Inc. magazine, and he receives regular payments from 35 percent to 40 percent of them: about $200 each in current monthly child support and $100 each toward arrears.

Like most private agencies, Jones requires a small application fee, which he sometimes waives, and takes 25 percent of the money collected. Compared to the cost of the private eyes and lawyers many women hire to track down their ex-husbands—usually with little success—Jones's price is cheap. His first 30-second local TV commercial brought in 9,000 calls from potential clients.

The private child-support collectors face little opposition from their competition in state bureaucracies. "Personally, I see it as the mother's choice," Ron Harris of the Child Support Enforcement office in Virginia Beach, told Inc. "There's certainly enough business here for all of us."