DEAR HARRY: Last month, I paid the final arrears on my child-support order, bringing my balance down to zero. For some reason, the city held my check for 15 days before depositing it. During that time, the IRS sent my refund check to Family Court to pay an arrearage that no longer existed. Both the amount I sent and the refund went to my son's mother, even though my check had cleared and my debt was zero.

Now, I'm being told that for the only chance of getting back my money, I must file papers to recoup the money from the city. Then, I have to wait for a court date and hope that the judge is disposed to make things right. When the shoe was on the other foot, and I owed money, they made all kinds of threats (including imprisonment) to get me up to date. When I contacted her to get the money, she laughed and hung up the phone. Why can't they just reclaim the money from her and return it to me? Help!

WHAT HARRY SAYS: The first step is to try to get the city to allow you to claim the overage as a credit against currently due support. That does not seem to be too big a problem.

However, if it fails, your best bet is to get a lawyer to intervene. Red tape still rules supreme, and even a clear-cut case like yours gets tied up in it.

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write to him at Daily News, 801 Market St., Philadelphia, PA 19107.