Working with Low-Income Cases: Lessons for the Child Support Enforcement System from Parents' Fair Share. III. Getting NCPs to Appear at the Reviews


In planning the PFS demonstration, local CSE staff were aware that the appearance rate of NCPs called to a paternity or enforcement hearing is far from 100 percent and many factors affect the proportion who do attend. As the demonstration developed, monitoring the appearance rate of NCPs who were potential PFS referrals and seeking ways to increase it were high priorities.

Exhibit 6

Forum for the Review of PFS Cases


Type of Review Used

Duval County, FL (Jacksonville)

Most referrals came from hearings before a commissioner of Family Court for Duval County, who was not a judge. Cases were brought on a motion for contempt of court for failure to comply with order to pay support. Cases were presented by a private attorney under contract with state, with assistance from CSE staff. Child support mass hearings (for cases not expected to have complications) were scheduled for half-day sessions, approximately 15 days a month. Notice of hearings was typically served in person, by substitute service (to another adult at address), or by mail, and the notice process was usually begun about 30 days before hearing. Some cases were referred out of paternity hearings, also in Family Court, and a few from order modification hearings.

Hampden County, MA (Springfield)

Most referrals came from hearings before a judge in Probate Court to establish paternity and an order. The case was presented by a CSE agency attorney or other staff. Block of time was set aside on one day of week for hearings of new paternities and potential PFS referrals were mixed in with other cases. Notice of hearings could be served in person or — more usual — by mail. Hearing had to be set at least 20 days after CSE agency received return receipt that service had been made, except for contempt hearings, which could be scheduled sooner. Other cases came from order modification hearings, or — to a small extent — from contempt hearings.

Kent County, MI (Grand Rapids)

Referrals most commonly came from meetings with CSE staff in their offices, which had no docket schedule, judicial involvement, or notice requirement, and additionally from NCPs brought into court on bench warrants for their arrest for nonpayment of child support. Other cases also came from hearings on an order to show cause why NCPs should not be held in contempt that occurred before referees, who typically had 10-15 cases an hour scheduled (this was on assumption that not all NCPs would appear) and CSE staff presented the case. Notice was sent by regular mail and hearing could be no more than 28 days after date of mailing. Cases heard in court before a judge on an order to show cause were presented by a CSE staff attorney. Notice was similar to referee hearing. Bench warrant cases were presented by a CSE staff arraignment officer.

Los Angeles County, CA (Los Angeles)

Referrals came out of a group screening and stipulation process. NCPs on CSE caseload who appeared to be eligible for PFS were sent a letter telling them to report on a date approximately one week later to civil court house in downtown Los Angeles for screening to determine eligibility for PFS. Screening was done by PFS and CSE staff, and those found eligible for program were asked to sign stipulations agreeing to participate in PFS. Those who signed then appeared as a group before a referee, who confirmed their understanding of meaning of stipulation, signed stipulation, and ordered them into program. Since group screening was not a formal hearing and was done without usual legal notice, staff had to institute a separate process to enforce obligation of those who did not appear and/or did not agree to stipulation.

Mercer County, NJ (Trenton)

Referrals came from hearings before hearing officers of Family Court. Special PFS hearing dockets were set for both paternity and order establishment and enforcement of existing orders (called motions to enforce litigant rights). Notice of hearings was normally served by mail (both regular and certified), though sometimes in person. Usual lag between service and hearing was 30 to 60 days. PFS staff also sent a letter to NCPs telling them of program. PFS staff also attended other Family Court dockets to identify potential referrals to program. If service was adequate and NCPs did not appear, hearing officers could issue a default order in paternity and first order cases or a bench warrant in enforcement cases.

Montgomery County, OH (Dayton)

Most referrals came from special group review hearings before a referee conducted solely to determine if NCPs should be referred to program. County prosecuting attorney prepared dockets and handled cases for two courts involved in CSE: Domestic Relations Court for cases in which there had been a divorce and Juvenile Court for cases in which paternity had to be established. Seven-day notices were sent by regular mail, which was supplemented starting in mid-1995 by home visits made a few days before hearing. Prior to beginning of home visits, cases of nonappearing NCPs were dismissed. After home visits began, referees accepted recommendation to institute a contempt action against NCPs for whom there was evidence of actual notice of hearing.

Shelby County, TN (Memphis)

Most NCPs were referred to PFS at hearings before a referee of Juvenile Court for contempt of court for nonpayment of support. CSE staff prepared material for hearing and "presenters" (who are specialists in hearing process but not attorneys) presented agency’s case. Usually notice of contempt hearing was served by mail, though sometimes in person. Usual lag between identification of a case and the scheduled hearing was 2 to 4 weeks. If NCPs failed to appear at a contempt hearing, court usually issued warrant for their arrest. Some referrals were made out of paternity establishment process at the point at which court was setting an initial child support order. If NCPs were unable to pay support and meet PFS eligibility requirements, they could be referred to program.