DETROIT (WXYZ) - It is one of the busiest courts in the state and one we get lots of complaints about. 7 Action News Investigator Bill Proctor exposes why so many are frustrated with the Wayne County Friend of the Court (WC FOC).
Carmen McCray is a Detroit mom who is owed nearly $40,000 in child support, according to records she presented to 7 Action News. She said trying to get the WC FOC to help her collect the money from her son's father has been a nightmare.
"They talk to me like I'm dirt," said McCray about the WC FOC.
We also heard from Anthony Sims, who said he landed in jail for failing to pay support for a child that a DNA test proves is not his.
"One-hundred percent I knew it wasn't mine," said Anthony Sims.
Experienced family practice lawyer Barry Fayne concluded that the WC FOC, "For the most part, they're overwhelmed and overworked."
The WC FOC handles more than 300,000 child support and custody cases a year. Most of those cases are filled with emotionally-charged issues that leave people like McCray furious.
"It's crap," she said. "Really it's a waste of my time to miss work and pay, and having to come downtown and pay to park."
McCray is the primary caretaker for her 12-year old son. She has been fighting to collect about $40,000 in child support her son's father James Gowans Jr. owes her. 7 Action News met Gowans outside a recent referee hearing he requested to clarify his court-ordered visitation. We told him "The friend of the court seems to think you owe her almost $40k?"
Gowans' responded: "Well, because in the first few years, she kept filing, and I was giving her cash. She wasn't telling them about the cash."
McCray said that's not true.
"No, he never gave me cash. He never gave me anything," she said.
What angers McCray most is that the WC FOC could help her collect back child support, but she said they won't investigate as the WC FOC has the power and authority to do.
"No" she said, "The system is not working for me at all."
McCray recently learned that Gowans, who is disabled, has been collecting Social Security benefits for himself and his son since 2007.
Although McCray is the custodial parent, and court records show Gowans is tens of thousands behind in court-ordered child support, she said he hasn't given her the cash from social security, and didn't tell her or the WC FOC he was receiving, and keeping, the money.
McCray received a copy of a SSI statement she said proves Gowans gets more than $500 a month that should go to his son. What is worse, she said is that, "…the amount he receives from SSI for my son is about the amount he owes in back child support."
McCray said she told the WC FOC about the benefits her son's dad has been collecting, but gets no response. In fact, rather than verify her son's social security benefit – and who was receiving the funds -- McCray said the WC FOC recently demanded she provide her pay tubs. That information was used to now reduce what Gowans owes her in back child support by $7,000, according to court records.
As for Anthony Sims, he said an acquaintance went to the WC FOC system with a lie that he fathered her child, and he can prove it.
"She basically said you're the father, played the system, and she has won!" he said.
Sims WC FOC nightmare has run more than 16 years. He said he spent a night in jail for failing to pay $16,000 for a child who isn't his. Sims said he tried repeatedly to get a DNA test done through the WC FOC on the child he was accused of fathering, but the mother of the girl failed to show up to court again and again.
"… I applied for a DNA test from the first time that I received any documentation stating that she was coming after me for child support and twenty some," said Sims, who said the mother of the child failed to show for 22 court dates.
When she finally did show up, the WC FOC said it was too late and refused to accept the DNA test that shows the child is not Sims.
It's a monstrous bureaucracy with a shrinking staff. Just a few years ago, the WC FOC had more than 700 employees and now has 220 workers handling 300,000 cases a year.
"There is no window where you can go to get help," said Fayne.
He has represented WC FOC clients for nearly 40 years. He said the WC FOC needs more resources and staff to get people the help they need.
"What I hear are people who are frustrated. They're frightened because they can't get their problem solved….and I think that they're confronted with a brick wall of an administration," said Fayne.
7 Action News also ran into that brick wall again and again. The WC FOC administration refused to talk to us after repeated requests for an interview. The state produces annual reports that show in the last five years WC FOC annual complaints have gone down statewide, and the same is true for Wayne County's WC FOC. But some customers say their WC FOC service experiences leave a lot to be desired.
Those who complain have suggestions for the Wayne County WC FOC, including a simple way to
contact a worker when mistakes in their case records are discovered. But so far, the door to the suggestion box is closed. But we promise to keep knocking until we get some answers.