Dad owed $119K in child support - 'There were four innocent kids'

Dad owed $119K in child support - 'There were four innocent kids' »Play Video

KUNA, Idaho (KBOI) - In many cases, people are bonded together for life through marriage. But in some cases, their ties are forced to continue despite divorce.
 
A Kuna woman was owed 12 years of child support payments totaling more than $100,000. But it's often kids who pay the price when one parent does not.

"I didn't think there was anything wrong with him," Stephanie Wierschem says. "I mean as far as us being perfect."

Wierschem grew up in Illinois and married her high school sweetheart, Rusty Haile.

"We were perfect," says Wierschem.

But things would eventually change.

The couple moved to Alaska to raise their four kids. Wierschem says they had a good life, from his job as a grocery store manager and her job as a teacher.

But along the way, the marriage started to crumble. In 2000, after 19 years, they divorced. Wierschem took the kids and went back to Illinois.

"It's hard to take care of four kids," she says. "And I was determined to do whatever I could and everything in my power to provide for my kids and keep them together."

It was harder still because Haile wasn't making his child support payments.

Haile was supposed to pay about $10 a day for each child. The money was to go toward basics such as food, clothing, housing and health care, as well as other extras.

After the split and without regular payments, Wierschem worked as a substitute teacher, and took a second job for $8 an hour.

It still wasn't enough. She was forced to ask for help from family, friends and co-workers.
    
"It makes you sad to think that you were married to someone for that long, and you loved them," says Wierschem. "But there were four innocent kids."

The youngest of those kids, twins Jayda and Nikki, are on the cheer team at Kuna High School. 

The twins say they've had virtually no contact with their biological father over the years. "None. Zero. We haven't seen him since we were four," says Jayda. Nikki says Haile called them once when they were in fifth grade for a brief conversation lasting about 30 seconds.

Things started to turn around for Wierschem when she met an Idaho man in Illinois. They got married and settled in Kuna.

But one thing didn't change. Wierschem still wasn't receiving child support from Haile, which eventually grew to more than $119,000. 

A few years ago, Wierschem contacted Idaho Health and Welfare to look into her case. They tried to track down Haile, who at this point was moving from state to state and eventually out of the country.

Haile stayed a step ahead of his responsibilities by moving from Alaska to Arizona to New Mexico to Illinois. Finally, he landed in the Bermuda.

But at that point federal investigators were keeping track of him. When he flew back to the U.S. in 2011, he was arrested in Atlanta.

"Child support is one of the programs nationally that is very good at working together within the 50 states and the four territories," says Candee Yearsley, Idaho Child Support director. Yearsley also says Idaho in particular is good at tracking down parents who have the ability to pay but don't.

Overall, Idaho collects 60 percent of child support payments in arrears. That number is even more impressive when you consider the workload. South Carolina has the highest number of cases per worker: 997. Idaho is second with 901. The best-staffed state is Pennsylvania with 152 cases per case worker, six times less than Idaho.

Although Haile owed more than $119,000 for his four kids, it doesn't rank anywhere near the top in Idaho.

According to Idaho Health and Welfare, as of the beginning of February the top offenders for unpaid child support with ties to Idaho range from $326,909, to $626,203.    

Yearsley says when divorced parents can't get along they frequently take it out on their children. "Often they can't seem to see past those issues to do what's right for the kids."

One year ago, Haile pleaded guilty to a felony charge of not paying child support. A judge ordered him to pay the amount he owed up to that point, nearly $120,000. He was also placed on five years probation. Haile was able to take care of the entire total in just two lump sums. Haile is also still responsible for $900 a month in continued child support until his twin daughters turn 18 in about four years.

Wierschem says she's grateful for all the effort her case-worker invested, and hopes her story can help others. She also says she's learned something she'd never considered 13 years ago: relationships don't always end when parents split up. "And that's the part I didn't realize when I got the divorce," says Wierschem. "I thought once I got the divorce it would all end."

But it still hasn't ended. Despite the fact Haile's two youngest girls currently don't want contact with him, he recently filed suit for full custody. Although Wierschem says he dropped that request just a couple of weeks ago, she says he's now petitioning to get his child support payments cut from $900 a month to about $600.

We tried contacting Rusty Haile to get his comments for this story. He never returned our message. 

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If you are a parent looking for help collecting child support, check the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare Child Support webpage.