This is big. At the DOJ/HHS Turner anniversary Symposium last week, The Office of Child Support Enforcement unveiled four Fact Sheets, an Information Memorandum, and an Action Transmittal.
One Fact Sheet, is titled Access to Justice Innovations (yes, you read that right) is headlined this way:
Child support procedures that are accessible and easy to use help assure a fair and just process and lead to better child support outcomes, especially for parents without lawyers. This fact sheet profiles several child support access to justice innovations, including court facilitators, self-help hotlines and centers, and online tools that facilitate active, informed participation by parents. (bold added)
Building on Tuner, the fact sheet goes on:
When parents are provided accurate information about the child support process, are given the opportunity to present information about their circumstances and are really listened to, support orders are more accurate and parents are more likely to comply with the orders. In fact, research suggests that parents are more likely to comply with child support orders that they perceive to be fair, while they are less likely to comply with child support orders that they perceive to be unfair. Implementing fair and inclusive procedures that ensure that parents are meaningful participants in child support proceedings is an important step in avoiding future civil contempt proceedings and other costly enforcement measures, including jail. (footnote omitted.)
The Fact Sheet details California and Washington’s experience with Court Facilitators, Minnesota, Texas and DC’s experiences with Hotlines and Centers, and Kentucky, Minnesota, South Carolina and Washington’s innovations in online tools.
Child support agencies can help assure just child support processes, whether administrative or judicial, by making sure that their processes are simple and easy to follow. Additionally, by collaborating with their judiciary,
state or local Access to Justice Commissions, and bar associations, child support agencies can play a critical role in developing materials and other appropriate procedural safeguards for unrepresented parents. (footnote omitted)
Other fact sheets similarly explore Establishing Realistic Child Support Orders: Engaging Noncustodial Parents, Providing Expedited Review and Modification Assistance and, Realistic Child Support Orders for Incarcerated Parents.
The Information Memorandum, for example, also discusses these access to justice innovations, as well as other practices and experiments such as ADR and Case Conferencing, Employment programs, Debt Compromise, Review and Adjustment, and Establishing Orders Based on Ability to Pay, as well as changes suggested by Turner.
Similarly, the Action Transmittal discusses Turner’s requirements (making clear that the specific procedures discussed in the case would not necessarily be the only way to meet due process standards), as well as discussing in detail the procedures that states should follow prior to the use of civil contempt (including individual review of actual and present ability to comply, notice, opportunity to be heard) and concluding:
Civil contempt that leads to incarceration is not, nor should it be, standard or routine child support practice. By implementing procedures to individually screen cases prior to initiating a civil contempt case and providing appropriate notice to alleged contemnors concerning the nature and purpose of the proceeding, child support programs will help ensure that inappropriate civil contempt cases will not be brought. By using Turner as a guidepost and urging the adoption of, at least, minimum safeguards in all such proceedings, this AT builds upon the innovations already incorporated into many child support programs over the past decade to limit the need for and use of civil contempt.
For those of us involved with access to justice, these documents represent huge steps forward.
Not only do they clarify and emphasize the holding and implications of Turner, but they make clear that the access innovations described in the documents help in support enforcement. Indeed child support programs have been collaborating with courts and legal services to implement access to justice innovations.