SOMERVILLE — On any given day, sheriff's officers in Somerset County are attempting to pin down deadbeat parents. They've not only skipped out on court-ordered child support obligations, but may have skipped town as well.

handcuffs and gavel (merznatalia, ThinkStock)
merznatalia, ThinkStock

When a location is known, they can swoop in and get the delinquent dad or mom in front of a judge as soon as possible.

"When we go out, it's not really during the day. We try to go out at nighttime ... when we know these people will be home," said Somerset County Prosecutor Frank Provenzano.

As part of a statewide child support sweep in April, the county sheriff's office collected $7,946 from offenders — just a sliver of the more than $433,000 owed on the 36 warrants served.

During the three-day sweep, officers in every county but Atlantic collected $267,458.50 in child support payments from 1,405 parents. In total, more than $27 million was owed.

Middlesex County brought in $805 on 41 warrants served. Mercer County made 170 arrests and collected $58,585.

Gilbert Gonzalez, apprehended in New Brunswick, was on the hook for more than $53,000. He paid $341.

"We bring them in front of the judge and it’s up to the judge to listen to each individual circumstance of what the person has to say," Provenzano said.

Most arrestees obviously lack the means to cover all of their child support arrears. So they're typically afforded the opportunity to set up a payment timetable as a condition of their release.

But, Provenzano said, a number of offenders are arrested on more than one occasion for failing to catch up on court-ordered payments.

"They don't take care of their obligation and it keeps adding up and adding up," he said.

Sussex County Sheriff Michael Strada, president of the Sheriffs' Association of New Jersey, said officers in all 21 counties strive to do their best throughout the year to make sure children receive the support they're expected to receive.

"Our children are our most prized possession; every parent must do everything they can to be a part of their child’s life.  You can never get the time back that passes by," Strada said.

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