ATLANTA - Already a father of two in 2006, Martez Fitzpatrick figured supporting a third child wouldn't much strain his budget.
Then the little girl's mother, a woman with whom he had a previous relationship, died days after giving birth.
He moved the girl into his Atlanta home, where he soon found full-time fatherhood at odds with his job as an on-the-road trucker. He took a local job and with it, a pay cut that put him behind in the $1,100 a month he owed the mother of his other kids.
"My head was just in turmoil," said Fitzpatrick, 44, who eventually got help from a Georgia program which offers parents lagging on child support help finding a job instead of a trip to jail.
Nationwide, data shows that while fewer parents are falling behind in child support payments, those who do are increasingly likely to seek help from programs like Georgia's as they find it harder to find work.
In New York, social service officials plan to extend a pilot program offering employment services and a refundable tax credit for low-income noncustodial parents who remain current in paying child support as new enrollments creep upward.
In Georgia, Department of Human Services leaders are adding 21 new case agents as they plan to serve 6,000 noncustodial parents this fiscal year - twice the annual average.
Overall, states are collecting more child support: Officials collected 62 percent of the $31 billion total amount of current support due for fiscal 2008, an increase of 3.3 percentage points over the percentage of current support collected and distributed in fiscal 2007, according to data collected by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
Georgia had 319,992 cases with arrearages due in fiscal 2008, down significantly from 342,181 a year earlier.
Yet here and elsewhere across the nation, fatherhood program agents to family court judges say people are needing more help making payments to the 15.8 million kids who depend on them.
In Kanawha County Family Court, West Virginia's busiest court system, modification requests are up nearly 60 percent from parents who lost jobs or overtime hours, according to officials there.
And in Michigan, home to the nation's highest unemployment, 60 percent of requests are from noncustodial parents asking for payment reductions, said Allegan County Friend of the Court Michael Day.
In New York, where the state's unemployment rate stands at its highest since 1983, parents are pouring into a pilot program offering help finding jobs. New enrollment jumped from 592 between January and August 2008 to 799 for that time frame this year.
"We have seen an increase in participation - frankly, we have since we first launched the program - but I would suspect the economy is definitely having an effect," said Anthony Farmer, a spokesman for the New York Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance, which hopes to continue the program.
The Georgia Department of Human Service's Fatherhood Program, the oldest and largest of its kind in the nation, pairs parents with agents who help with everything from resume-building to dressing for a job interview, while simultaneously using department resources to match parents with employment.
The goal is getting cash into the hands of custodial parents, and it works: During fiscal year 2008, participants paid more than $14 million in child support.
The program pulls back parents at risk for going into arrears on payments, potentially saving the state money that might have been spent pursuing the delinquent parent.
Child support officials typically refer parents to the program, created in 1997.
In the past, officials said it largely helped parents who had trouble getting jobs due to arrest records or minimal education.
But lately, "We have experienced men who have worked in factories for years ... made child support payments and had no problem," said Keith Horton, director of Georgia's Office of Child Support Services. "Then bam, they were unemployed."
Georgia officials will sprinkle agents across 17 counties - from Fulton and Gwinnett counties in metropolitan Atlanta to rural Tift county - just as data shows parents receiving state unemployment benefits has quadrupled since 2008.
In Cordele, program agent Neal Edalgo sees 300 cases a month, three times what he saw last year. He faces challenges placing many of them - 15 candidates may be trying for a job at a time, for example - but finds most parents are committed to getting back on track.
"Many of them do have a history of working and supporting their children, but got caught up in industry layoffs, plant closures, company downsizings and that kind of thing," he said.
Participants are tracked by agents after joining the program. Subjects who use the program to get a job must make payments or face legal consequences.
The department lists three men as the state's most wanted child support evaders, owing more than $187,000 for a total of 10 children.
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