Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Indiana Prosecutors Help Reduce Child Support Payment Orders

The second session of the 2010 Indiana Child Custody and Support Advisory Committee [ICCSAC] hearings continued discussion about alternatives to incarceration for non-compliance with child support payment orders. The Committee Chair, Vanessa Summers, invited additional input by some child support enforcement prosecutors from around the state.

Mr. Andrew Schweller, Deputy Prosecutor, Allen County Prosecutor's Office, discussed the prison population project. He stated that the project involved the Allen County Prosecutor's Office writing to incarcerated non-custodial parents and offering to file for a modification of child support on their behalf. In 2007 the Indiana Supreme Court, in Lambert v Lambert, ruled that child support payment orders of incarcerated individuals must be based on their income at that time and not imputed to what the person could be earning if not incarcerated.

Mr Schweller admitted that it had been the goal of prosecutors and judges to get the highest child support payment order possible but that attitude is now changing. This is in part due to new federal incentive payment regulations that base payments on five performance standards. These include the compliance rate; that is the total percent of payments collected instead of the total amount ordered. Collecting 100% of an order that is cut in half provides the state with more money than collecting 50% of an order twice the size even though both are the same amount of money.

In response to a question from Representative Summers, Mr. Schweller stated that in Allen county very rarely does a person go to jail the first time for failure to pay child support. He stated that a person would usually go through two probation hearings and work release before being incarcerated for failure to pay child support. He said that usually around sixty individuals go to prison each year in Allen county for failing to pay child support. In response to questions from Committee members, Mr. Schweller indicated that he believed using mediators and facilitators is a good idea because sometimes the problem is communication. Through bringing both parents together they can often see that a support order must be reasonable and is best for all parties if it is and then is also paid.

Ms. Kathy Dvorak, Child Support (Title IV-D) Program Administrator, St. Joseph County Prosecutor's Office, provided a handouf concerning St. Joseph County's programs for delinquent obligors. Ms. Dvorak explained that the child support division (division) tries to identify the barriers in paying child support for non-custodial parents..

Her office will subpoena both parents to an administrative hearing to determine a child support payment order. Ms Dvorak explained that the division attempts to establish support orders by stipulation/agreement. She stated that the division holds an administrative hearing to also determine what the barriers are for the noncustodial parent in paying child support

She indicated that the non-custodial parents are often grateful that the division is listening to them. She said that the division has partnered with a Notre Dame law clinic to offer mediation for child custody and support for families.

In response to a question from Mr. DeVries, a Committee member, about whether the division had incurred extra costs in implementing the programs for delinquent obligors, Ms. Dvorak indicated that the division has not received any extra resources. She stated that while there may be more costs for the additional hearings in the offices of the division, the division spends less time pursuing and enforcing child support in court.

Mr. William Welch, Deputy Prosecutor/Child Support Administrator, Monroe County Prosecutor's Office, spoke to Committee members concerning non-custodial parent services (NCPS) in Monroe County. He stated that the Monroe County Prosecutor's Office has a liaison that contacts and works with non-custodial parents throughout the child support enforcement process. He also explained how the liaison works with noncustodial parents. He stated that the liaison will refer non-custodial parents to workforce development, drug and alcohol abuse programs, and other contacts to help address the non-custodial parent's issues in failing to pay child support.

Ms. Gina Jones, Child Support Administrator/Deputy Prosecutor, Lake County Prosecutor's Office, discussed the Support for Kids Improvement Program (SKIP). She stated that if a non-custodial parent shows a willingness but inability to pay child support, the court withholds contempt for thirty days and the non-custodial parent is referred to the SKIP program. This program helps identify barriers to paying support, getting realistic support orders set and implementing a payment plan.

Both the Monroe County and Lake County programs appear to be very similar to Virginia's Intensive Case Monitoring Program. I spoke about the record of this program briefly and provided a handout to the committee members.

Ms Dvorak's statement about cost realignment was good to hear as well as Mr Schweller's belief that using mediators and facilitators reduces the burden on the courts. I have been seeking to have legislation passed which will require parenting time coordinators in divorce and paternity cases prior to entering the courtroom. While there will be additional court costs for the coordinators I do believe it will be offset by reduced courtroom litigation and should be supported for this reason.

The hardline approach that took hold in the mid 1990's which says set support as high as possible and jail those who don't pay is now having to give way to reality. Parents in jails or prisons have less opportunity to provide financial and emotional support for their children. The Indiana Supreme Court in numerous cases has established that parents must have the ability to pay the support ordered. Prosecutors are willing to help parents paying support get the orders reduced to an amount they can pay and in some instances help with parenting time issues.

This is progress in the right direction. We still have a long way to go on the parenting time issues but are getting closer. If you need help with modifying your support payment order or getting your parenting time enforced please contact me.

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