Macomb Co. sweep to target 3,500 who owe child support

James David Dickson

Mount Clemens — Some of the 3,500 or so individuals with bench warrants resulting from outstanding child support payments in Macomb County may get a knock on their doors next week when authorities conduct a week-long enforcement sweep, the Macomb County Sheriff’s Office announced Wednesday morning.

The sweep, a collaborative effort between Macomb County Friend of the Court and the county sheriff’s office, was announced publicly because the purpose of the sweep is not to make arrests, but to get men and women affected by the warrants to address their debts.

This enforcement action will not include bench warrants for unpaid spousal support.

“The goal is not to arrest 3,500 people,” said Thomas Blohm, director of Macomb County Friend of the Court, the enforcement and investigative wing of the Macomb County Circuit Court. “Arrests are traumatic and can separate people even more so.”

“Any individuals who voluntarily appear will be given the opportunity to have their circumstances reviewed to determine if they qualify for a special program that can help substantially reduce state-owed arrearages,” said a news release on the enforcement sweep. The Macomb County Friend of the Court Office is located at 40 N. Main St.

As for people who simply do not have the money to make their payments, “those are the people we want to talk to,” Blohm said.

People who have a burden they can’t pay, due to lacking finances or changes in life circumstances, such as loss of a job, can work with the court system to “rightsize” their payments or get on a manageable payment plan, Blohm said. Arrearages can even be waived. But none of that is possible, Blohm said, if the person is not in communication with the court.

Bench warrants, Blohm explained, often result from a failure of the warranted individual to communicate with the court system. Someone who mounts arrearages in their child support may be asked to explain why in a show cause hearing. Failure to show up to that hearing triggers a bench warrant.

Child support arrearages are a $6.9 billion problem in Michigan, according to the most recent figures available from the Child Support Division of the Attorney General’s office.

“During the past 12 months, the Attorney General’s Child Support Division has arrested 900 defendants and collected over $22 million in child support,” wrote Andrea Bitely, communications director for Attorney General Bill Schuette, in an email to The News.

While Macomb’s Friend of the Court has four sheriff’s deputies who work specifically on serving bench warrants — two in the morning and two in the afternoon — the enforcement sweep will bring that number to more than 10. Some sheriff’s deputies will be equipped to put boots on the cars of those with warrants.

The public is being encouraged to provide tips on people with outstanding warrants by calling the Friend of the Court office at (586) 469-5756 between the hours of 8 a.m. and 4:30 p.m.

While Blohm couldn’t speak to any possible penalties for those providing false information, he said “we don’t just react” to tips from the public, “we check it out.”

jdickson@detroitnews.com