SALT LAKE CITY — The law was designed to get people's attention and it appears to be working.
Figures provided to FOX 13 News show a surge in court-ordered child support payments in the year since a law went into effect, blocking people from obtaining hunting and fishing licenses if they owe.
"This has been very successful. In the child support world, it’s very hard to move the needle on collections," said Liesa Stockdale, the director of Utah's Office of Recovery Services (a division of the Department of Health & Human Services) which is tasked with collecting child support.
The law automatically denies a hunting or fishing license to anyone who is past due more than $2,500 in child support for a year or more. Under numbers the agency provided to FOX 13 News:
- 2,959 individuals were blocked from obtaining a license.
- $9.9 million has now been collected from those individuals since the law went into effect in July 2021 (a $1.9 million increase over the previous year).
- 494 individuals have come into compliance and are now current on their court-ordered child support obligations.
"These are people that weren't in compliance for the year before possibly years before. And yet suddenly with this meaningful inducement to pay attention to their child support they brought themselves current and started making the payments consistently and regularly that we want for those children," said Stockdale.
Rep. Karianne Lisonbee, R-Clearfield, who sponsored the law, was thrilled.
"It seems like it might just be a drop in the bucket, but I think it’s significant. These are noncustodial parents who are now motivated to pay their child support payments," she told FOX 13 News.
Rep. Lisonbee's bill, when she proposed it in 2020, generated some controversy and attention. There were as many as 10,000 potential noncustodial parents with court-ordered obligations that would lose licenses. But Rep. Lisonbee said she has heard from constituents both happy and less so.
"I heard from one custodial parent who said, 'I’ve received the very first payment ... and we’ve been separated for over 10 years. But now I’ve received this payment which seems like a miracle and I didn’t think it would happen and it’s because of your bill,'" she said. "There’s a lot of people not thrilled with my bill. Mostly they just disagree that they should pay child support at all."
In response to some complaints, Rep. Lisonbee did modify the law to give some flexibility on payments, particularly when someone changes jobs.
"We want to give people enough breathing room to be able to make those life changes that help their situation and their childrens' situation," she said.
The Office of Recovery Services said there still is a massive amount of child support that is still uncollected — as of September 2021, more than $379 million.