Jane came storming into my office. “There is no justice,” she said. A single mom, she’d gone to court on her own to get an increase in support. The father of her son had an attorney. Jane did not have her paper work completed correctly. The lawyer belittled her. The judge threw her papers back, telling her they were wrong and he would not listen to her. She left the courtroom crying. Now she was angry at the unfairness. p. 44, Gospel Justice.
Across the nation this scene is played out daily as unrepresented moms and dads try to navigate the justice system. Last year an estimated 80% of individuals were without private representation in support proceedings. But new rules might help. On November 17, 2014, the federal Office of Child Support Enforcement published a Notice of proposed rule changes and opened public comments this week. The public can make comments until January 16. We urge adoption of these new rules which will provide greater access to justice. Few people make comments so your voice makes a difference! I summarize some of the key changes below and urge you to Comment Now.
Access to Justice: Proposed amendment to section 304(b)(3)(vi) [45 CFR] which would add court based self-help programs to the list of activities eligible for federal funding. Funding should encourage courts to improve access for those without counsel.
Mediation: We are big proponents of mediation. Proposed section 304(b)(3)(vi) encourages states to develop non-adversarial dispute resolution alternatives such as mediation.
Parenting Time Orders: In the past if someone had a child support issue which the state was involved in, the state could not help with a parenting time (visitation) order. The person had to file a separate proceeding on their own. The proposed rule change to section 304(b)(3)(vii) would allow the state to help enter agreed orders without a separate hearing and pleadings.
Job Services: Many parents paying support need jobs. Proposed section 303.6(C)(5) allows the court to establish a job service program. Federal funding should encourage courts to take this step and establish screening for who would be eligible. Helping parents find work only helps everyone.
Education and Outreach: We are big proponents of education. A new section 304.20(b)(12) is proposed encouraging educational and outreach activities intended to inform the public about the child support enforcement program, responsible parenting, and the financial consequences of raising children when the parents are not married to each other.
Helping parents be responsible: Currently child support orders can be set in a number of ways that do not reflect the actual ability to pay child support. Typically men are the payers and if absent, incarcerated, or simply loss of job or reduced income can find themselves in a hole from which they can never emerge. Proposed rule 302.56 would require states to use parents “actual” earnings and take into account the noncustodial parent’s subsistence needs. Both of these changes are intended to produce child support orders that parents are more likely to pay, and consequently increase the actual payments and encourage more interaction between noncustodial parents and their children.
Jail: We have the worst incarceration rate in the world. It does not help to throw non-paying parents in jail. The rules propose a new section 303.6(C)(4) which would require states to have “procedures ensuring that enforcement activity in civil contempt proceedings takes into consideration the subsistence needs of the noncustodial parent, and ensures that a purge amount the noncustodial parent must pay in order to avoid incarceration takes into consideration actual earnings and income…(and) must be based upon a written evidentiary finding that the noncustodial parent has the actual means to pay the amount from his or her current income or assets.” This last would ensure compliance with the United States Supreme Court case of Turner v. Rogers, 564 U.S. __(2011)
We appreciate these proposed changes and hope you will voice your support. If approved we will still have work to do to see states implement the changes but it is a step in the right direction. As we work for systemic change lets remember each person who is impacted. Jane found a Christian attorney who talked her through the process, restored her hope, prayed, encouraged and … well you’ll have to read the book.
Hope you will share this information and opportunity with others as you encourage them to
Go and Do Likewise.