Issuing Realistic and Enforceable Support Orders Bench Card
Child Support and the Judiciary
Realistic, enforceable orders that will yield stable support payments for children must be based on the actual ability of the noncustodial parent to pay support. Low-income noncustodial parents with inappropriate support orders that represent a high percentage of their reported earnings result in the child not receiving adequate or stable support and the accumulation of arrears that are not collectible. Judges and judicial officials should also be mindful that legal questions arising from insufficient information or lack of clarity in a child support order may result in another court’s refusal to effectively enforce the order, inadequate enforcement, second guessing of terms, or long processing delays.
An excellent and useful child support order checklist is published in the bench card A Practice Guide: Making Child Support Orders Realistic and Enforceable. Selected examples of the items on the checklist are:
- Include a written finding of basis of personal jurisdiction.
- Recite due process basics.
- When entering a new support order affirmatively state no other support order exists.
- Include a written finding as to how paternity was established.
- When modifying an order of a sister state, include an analysis of subject matter jurisdiction.
- When calculating child support pursuant to guidelines include child support guideline calculation and, if deviating, the basis for a deviation.
- Include an order for medical support.
- If the obligor is a member of the armed services, recite that the provisions of the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA) have been met or waived; if the obligor is not a servicemember make a finding in the order.
- Include direction that the child support payment be made through the State Disbursement Unit (SDU).
- Direct both parties—custodial parent (CP) and noncustodial parent (NCP)—to update address and employment information with the IV-D agency.
- Ensure copies of the order and applicable guideline worksheets are sent to the IV-D child support agency and to the CP and NCP to allow for timely appeals or reviews.
Recommendations aimed at setting appropriate, realistic and enforceable orders are addressed in the National Judicial - Child Support Task Force report Setting Appropriate Child Support Orders: Practical Techniques Used in Child Support Agencies and Judicial Systems in 14 States. This August 2007 report also discusses the framework and current challenges for setting appropriate child support orders gleaned from a survey of fourteen states. For an examination of “Who is Not Paying and Why” and the value of a “problem-solving court” review the technical assistance bulletin Integrating Problem-Solving Court Practices Into the Child Support Docket. For the effects of child support order amounts on payments by low-income families review ACF/OCSE Reports (April 2007).