Tuesday, October 09, 2007

The Mistaken Driver's License Suspension

My friend, Esme, has an unusual arrangement with the father of her child. She pays him child support, although they largely split the time spent with him, and share many of the responsibilities. This has worked out well for them both, and they're both dedicated parents. Although it hasn't always been easy, they get along relatively well.

But recently the State of Florida has changed the way they collect child support and it's causing havoc among those who pay it. Let me give you the rest of the story from Esme's perspective:

Saturday morning, I was driving down the road after a trip to the grocery store. My trunk was full of frozen food, and my boyfriend and I were happily discussing our plans for Sunday. Suddenly I saw a police car in my back mirror. As my tags were up to date, my insurance was paid, I was driving the speed limit and obeying the laws, I didn't think I had a thing to worry about, so I paid no attention.

Suddenly, the police car's lights began flashing, and I realized I was being pulled over! When the policeman came up to the window, I asked him what I was being pulled over for. Perhaps, I thought wildly, I am being pulled over due to my car missing a couple of hubcaps that had been thrown off on the highway somewhere during a long trip down the coast.

He asked if this was my car, and I said that it was. Now I began thinking that someone had somehow reported it stolen and it was all a mix-up which could be easily solved. But no - he then told me that he had pulled me over because according to his records, my driver's license had been revoked.

I was shocked and gasped "What?! Not AGAIN?!" as my boyfriend echoed me.

"You didn't know of this?" asked the cop.

"NO!" I said forcefully. "They've done this before, and I had to go to court to prove that it was a mistake the FIRST time! THIS time I have paid two months in advance, got a notice in the mail, and called them to verify that it was indeed a mistake and the suspension wasn't happening. But of course, it's happened AGAIN!"

The policeman actually believed me, but had to still issue me a citation that he said could be addressed in court and, if I could prove I wasn't guilty, I could settle it with the judge. In the meantime, I couldn't drive and the entire weekend was before me.

My boyfriend switched seats with me (I was thankful that someone was with me or I would've had to pay for a taxi to get home). Upon arriving home, I tore apart my house to find the information proving what I'd said, and also downloading history of payments made from the computer. The rest of the weekend was overshadowed by the fact that I couldn't drive and had to rely on others to get me where I needed to go.

On Monday, I walked into the child support office armed with my information. Now, picture the friendly environment of the child support office for a moment: Every employee is bored and resents you. They all feel that if you're there, you are undoubtedly a deadbeat of some sort, and it's their job to punish you. You could sum up the aura that they give out as mere derision: You're just a waste of oxygen on planet Earth. To enforce this feeling, they all deal with you from behind bullet-proof glass. There are little openings to shove paperwork and (presumably) bribes through, but that's as close as you'll get to any human contact. All interraction involves you peering blurrily at them through the scratches and smears which are never cleaned from the glass on either side.

Another little trick they have is the interminable wait. Everyone starts in room number 5. You wait there until someone comes in (your wait can sometimes be upwards of 15 - 30 minutes before someone shows up), then they take your basic information and either send you back to the waiting room or into another room where you repeat your wait. Due to the bulletproof glass, you can't leap across and strangle anyone, and all complaints fall on deaf ears, so the waiting room is full of resigned victims.

I went up to the receptionist at the window with my boyfriend in tow. "Reason you're here?" she asked loudly and flatly.

"Er, I'm here because my license was suspended incorrectly," I said hesitantly through the bulletproof glass. I resisted the urge to duck down and speak a little more clearly through the hole at the base of the glass.

She gave me the skeptical look that they're all trained to give you there. "Siddown," she instructed. "Someone'll call you when they're ready." A moment later, she said "Yer in luck! She's ready to see ya in room number 5."

So, we trudged back to room number 5.

We waited the standard minimum of 15 minutes before an elderly woman tottered in, carefully balancing a jelly donut and a cup of coffee. "OH!" she said, startled by our unexpected appearance, apparently. She almost spilled her coffee.

"Did anyone tell you we were here?" I asked.

"NO!" she said. "If I'd known you were here, then I wouldn't have stopped for coffee and a donut."

I began to tell her what was going on, but my boyfriend wisely stopped me. "She's only the information gatherer, hon," he said, grimly.

"Well, I'm not ONLY..." but then the woman trailed off and pushed a form to me to fill out with my name, address, and the reason for my visit. Yup, she was ONLY. She then referred us to Room #4.

We sat in Room #4 for at least another 15 minutes. During that time, we stared at a poster of a determinedly cheerful blue-skinned blond who is supposedly representative of the people who help you with your child support problems. I tried to match her with anyone in the office. Failing that, I tried to match her with my mental picture of anyone I'd spoken with in the main Tallahassee office. Finally I gave up. Maybe it was simply the blue skin (possibly due to a printer's error?) but I think it was the cheery demeanor that threw me. Incidentally, this blue-skinned blond is posted in each room, leering at the victims as they wait.

Finally a very nice man popped in, telling us that he'd already faxed a request to retract the driver's license suspension.

"Well then, you already have realized that this was a mistake," my boyfriend piped up.

Yes, they had. The man informed me that this mistake is very common now that a new system has been institutionalized. In fact, some people have been hauled away in handcuffs, all due to a mistaken suspension. And, since you can't sue the State of Florida, you must simply bend over and take it.

"We've been trying to get Tallahassee to listen," the harried man explained. "We see this constantly now. But they think this new system is "it" and they don't want to hear about it."

By now, an hour of my time had expired while I corrected their mistake. Happily, I didn't have to go get my license reinstated because the cop hadn't taken it from me. However, as this representative pointed out to me, if I had to replace my driver's license with a new one, it would have been another $50! Apparently I was luckier than many have been.

I've thought about calling Tallahassee and complaining, but what good would really come out of it? First, I'll have to wade through an exceedingly defective voicemail system. Second, the phone lines are staffed with attendants who only work from scripts and will not deviate from them except to politely tell you that whatever you really need help on is simply not their job and they can't give you an answer. If you ask to speak to a supervisor, they say the same thing.

I have begun to realize why they all work behind bullet-proof glass.


The Lazy Iguana said...

Wow. That is kind of funny really. License suspensions for EVERYONE! YEA! Kind of like going to watch the Oprah show but instead of "Everyone gets a free car!" it is "everyone gets screwed for no good reason! Bend over, here comes the broomstick!".

I am never going to have kids. Ever. It is just too much of a pain in the ass and a potential legal risk. The way things are going now, I am surprised we do not have a negative population growth.

Kathleen said...

First, welcome back. Missed you.

Lazy's comment is priceless. Negative population growth ... lol. Also, I agree ... the post was somehow perversely funny.

Poor Esme. The truth is, not much good will happen to change the mess. "Resigned victims" is perfect.

michelle said...

Good Lord, how do you get into trouble so easy. Your poor thing.
Believe it or not the only issue hubby had with child support is the a records issue on support. Went to court, judge said yes you paid, court records corrected. Ex got pissed, thought she was going to collect something for nothing, end of story.

Oh and every person we saw or talked to went out of their way to help. They must have seen the ex's blog and new hubby was not the issue...

Miss Cellania said...

How did the state ever get the idea she was late with support, if daddy didn't complain? I'd never heard of a program to pull your licence for nonsupport. They should do a scan on how cost-effective it is. Considering the time of so many people involved in correcting the mistakes, the whole program is most likely in the red, even if they collect more support. But I bet there won't be any such study.

Three Score and Ten or more said...

Bureaucracy in general exists for only one real reason: To justify and prolong its existence. At the end of the day, it is rarely what has been accomplished, but how many people each bureaucrat has dealt with and how many pieces of paper have been generated (That's why you almost never deal with the first one you see. You have to be passed around so that each body can be clicked on the counter as many times as possible.)
I don't know about the use of the driver's license to enforce child support, that's a new one on me.

Bryan said...

Wow! Now that's a big brother story if I ever hear one. When I have time I'll post what happened to us at a hospital in Cleveland, Ohio recently. Unbelievable!

Kathleen said...

On my way to the gym today, I was thinking about being pulled over like Esme. Then it really ticked me off to think that our tax dollars are being wasted with this enforcement of non-existent violations. We don't dare seal our borders, but we can pull over innocent people to pump up a system that is a mess. Like our courts are not over burdened as it is. Three Score is right, self perpetuating fungus focused on spreading it's spores.

daveawayfromhome said...

If you want to know why the system's in place, whether it works or not, look no further than the vendor of said system, who is no doubt a crony of whatever politician who instituted the sytem. The disconnect between the lawmakers and the citizenry is really starting to get on my nerves. Not to mention the impact of money on the system.

Debbie said...

My hubby gets 2 letters from the state of TN every month. The first one tells him is payment for the month is past due and the second one a day later billing him for the following months child support. When he got the first letter the first time he called about it because he is never late (he sends the check mid month for the next month) and they told him it was just a glitch in the system and to ignore it! The money that the state of TN is wasting just amazes me!

Susan @ Support Your Kids said...

I found your story while I was researching the effectiveness of suspending a driver's license in order to collect child support. The whole theory didn't make a lot of sense to me.

I never would have believed some of the horror stories I have heard about working "within the system" until I tried to collect child support through the Florida Dept. of Revenue. What a nightmare.

In frustration, I started a blog to document my saga and to vent. I've included a link to your driver's license story there.

Also, you are absolutely correct about the bulletproof glass and the atmosphere of the office and its workers. It makes one never want to ever have to go back there, but of course, I must. . .

Anonymous said...

Well, actually, she's pretty lucky considering they ONLY wasted her time and she was able to keep her license.

The CSE office that Texas has is husband has never been a day late...paid in full for over 8 years...but the Texas morons decided to make up past due support once they came up with the great "debit card" for which his ex applied for...You see, when they collect money, they make money from the Federal Goverment...yes, that's YOUR tax dollars at work. They tell the people of the state that if they don't collect you pay, when the fact is when they collect, YOU PAY anyway because the federal government gives them money.

Anyway, they told him he owed 29K...he had 30 days to contest it...and he contested it AS SOON as they garnished his wages...which was before they even sent him the letter,and left him with 1/2 his paycheck for almost 4 months...They also ruined his credit and put a lien on his properties...In court, it was found that he indeed did NOT owe the money and it was an error, but they instead gave him a piece of paper saying "paid in full"...You know why? Because even though he didn't owe the money, when the Texas thieves show that 29K as paid in full, YOUR TAX MONEY is given to Texas to pay for "collecting" that money...Ah yes, they even posted his social security number, date of birth, driver's license number, full name and address on the internet public records page...anyone can see it...Isn't that nice?

By the way, I spoke with a group from California that does studies on identity theft...she advised me to have my husband get a report for HIS MINOR CHILD immediately because they have seen hundreds of children's identity stolen because of the child support records...and the poor kids find out when they are 18 and need the credit...then it's a mess to fix...

You might suggest to your friend, that since she has such a great agreement with her ex, they remove themselves from the child support office mess and close their case and do it themselves...and then, have her check her child's credit report...and put a fraud alert on it just in case...