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CASE STUDY

Thomson Reuters CLEAR and Brown County Child Support

Innovative use of CLEAR helps find absent parents in Brown County, Wisconsin

Locating absent parents who owe child support is one of Karen Ferry’s chief challenges in her role at Brown County Child Support in Wisconsin. With savvy use of Thomson Reuters CLEAR online investigation software and its powerful, far-reaching database, she has improved her success rate in tracking down missing parents to enforce child support, even if those parents have left the local area or state.

“If it wasn’t for CLEAR, I would not be as successful in my caseload as I am,” Ferry said. “I wouldn’t have access to the countrywide resources I need in order to do my job and make sure the monetary support gets to the children who need it.”

In one notable case, Ferry had a noncustodial parent who had not paid their court-ordered child support in more than a year. Brown County Child Support, which serves a 500-square-mile area around Green Bay, Wisconsin, had hit a standstill in locating the person. Not only was mail being returned from the last known address, but state databases returned no employer hits, no new hire hits, and no new wages were being reported to the Wisconsin Department of Labor. Faced with a dead end, Ferry decided to enter that last known address into a CLEAR search. Quickly, she found that the address they had been sending notices to was actually owned by the missing parent, although they weren’t living there. The search also showed a second address the person was using to receive tax bills.

During Ferry’s investigation of this second address via CLEAR, she discovered it was associated with a local business. From there, she followed up through local resources and searched county records to find out where the property bill was being sent.

In the end, Brown County Child Support was able to locate the parent via CLEAR and then use various public records to show that the parent was running not just one, but several income-producing businesses. The agency was ultimately able to get a contempt citation for nonpayment of child support. Not long afterward, the custodial parent began receiving the child support payments.

“The CLEAR program has been one of the best resources I've used to locate absent parents who owe support,” Ferry said. “The address information we find, more often than not, is more current than what we have, and once we confirm through a postal check, we can serve the individual or, in some cases, contact them about a jobs program we're offering.

“On the flip side, it has helped us locate custodial parents who may not have updated their address with us to whom we can send funds that have been collected on their case.”

CLEAR helps investigators match more than addresses, however. The vast collection of information and data can include the names of someone’s associates, coworkers, past roommates, known relatives, and anyone who has lived at a particular address. All of these are clues that can be cross-referenced to create a clear path to finding someone who – intentionally or unintentionally – is flying under the radar.

While a person search usually starts (and ends) with entering the date of birth or a Social Security number, sometimes there is very little information to go on. Some people take cash jobs, live with friends or family without reporting their address, or use aliases. Even in cases that are not a deliberate evasion of a child support order, the reported information may not be correct, for example, if a name is misspelled or the date of birth is transposed.

That’s what makes CLEAR especially valuable; it can return results on broad search terms, such as name and year of birth only, rather than the entire birth date, and this information can be linked to previous addresses and associated people.

Indeed, the ability of CLEAR to access arrest records can be extremely valuable in custody cases, especially if it shows the person is still incarcerated. If the person has been released, the jail or prison may be able to provide the name of the probation officer or the most recent reported address. Even if the address is no longer valid, the up-to-date CLEAR data can often link the last update to a more accurate address.

Every piece of information uncovered adds to the evidence necessary for agencies like Brown County Child Support to take positive action towards helping children and families get the support they need and are entitled to. But it all starts with CLEAR.

“Ultimately CLEAR is our location resource,” Ferry explains, adding whether she is trying to track someone down in order to enforce the order or trying to track someone down to find out why the agency is not receiving the child support, CLEAR is the agency’s go-to resource. “Either way we’re going to approach these people in the same way,” she said. “We need to find an address where we can actually serve them so that they have to appear in court and explain why they’re not paying child support.”

The answer as to why the support order is going unpaid plays a crucial role in Brown County Child Support’s next steps. If the person has the ability to pay, that order will be enforced. But if the person has been unemployed for some time or does not have the ability to generate the money, the agency tries to use a holistic approach and provide job search and other support services. In Brown County, parents even have access to an Access and Visitation coordinator to help with parenting issues.

In the end, providing needed social services benefits all parties. When noncustodial parents are helped in constructive ways to get better paying jobs and spend more time with their children, they have better relationships with the children and the custodial parents and are more inclined to pay their child support. Comprehensive services help keep families together by providing support, help, and care that protect vulnerable children.

“We are a little bit more expanded than most child support agencies,” Ferry said, noting that by using CLEAR, her agency can offer positive, helpful solutions for people. “Through CLEAR, our actions become not just an enforcement measure, but also a measure in which we are able to offer people the opportunities they might not otherwise have.”

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