Ruth Pfeifer has seen it all.
From her perch in the Johnson County Trustee’s Office, which collects court-ordered support payments, has seen the changes in child support from the days of deadbeat dads to the new age of electronic direct deposits. She has been working as the office manager since the office was created in 1972, but after 40 years has recently retired.
“It was actually established to be able to make sure that the children got the money that the courts were ordering,” Pfeifer said.
She said before the Trustee’s Office was created, the only thing people could do when they were not being paid child support was to go back to court and tell the judge. She said that back then it was mostly women filing for child support and often times they could barely afford a lawyer to get through the divorce, let alone go back to court to fight for child support.
“It was a vicious circle,” Pfeifer said. “It was in the days of the deadbeat dad.”
Going through the Court Trustee’s Office does cost money, but Pfeifer said it is a small fee compared to what hiring a lawyer and going back to court costs.
She said one of the most important changes she saw was the federal government’s increased involvement in child support collection. Pfeifer said that now parents have the option to have a portion of their paychecks withheld and sent directly to for child support payments.
On top of procedural changes, Pfeifer learned new technologies during her 40-year career. She said the office originally did work on typewriters, but now handles everything on computers, allowing the staff of 40 to handle 19,500 cases a year.
“I hired an intern from the Olathe school district and she had never seen a typewriter,” Pfeifer said.
She has heard every excuse in the book for not paying child-support. She said the most outrageous story came from a man who ran into the office right before closing time and said he was driving down the highway with $35,000 sitting on the passenger seat when the car door flew open and he lost all of the money.
Pfeifer said the office called the sheriff’s department once when an unmarked box showed up. After much debate, they opened the box and found a pair of worn-out tennis shoes. She said a client sent in the shoes to show how badly child support was needed.
She said even though she has seen an awful lot of sad stories, it is always exciting for employees when someone completes all of their child support payments.
“We have people come in when they pay their final payment on child support and we would all drop out things and come to the front and celebrate with them,” Pfeifer said. “I think we helped people become proud of the fact that they were supporting their children.”
She is proud of her 40 years in the office. She said she enjoyed working there because she knew they were doing something good.
Now in retirement, she plans to spend time with her husband and grandchildren. But she said she wants to continue to do something good — something worthwhile, like her job at the Trustee’s Office.