Entering Default Orders Bench Card
Child Support and the Judiciary
Default orders should be avoided whenever possible. These orders are generally less likely to get support to children because they are often not based on the noncustodial parent’s real ability to pay and they may be subject to later challenges on due process issues. Nonetheless, upon a finding of proper service of process, a court must enter a default order in child support cases so a parent does not avoid financial responsibility for a child by refusing to appear in court.
To ensure fairness and to avoid having the order set aside suggested practices are:
- Make a finding as to jurisdiction.
- If asserting jurisdiction over a non-resident defendant, review the Uniform Interstate Family Support Act (UIFSA), Sec. 201.
- If the respondent is a servicemember, appoint counsel pursuant to the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA), Sec. 201.
- Ascertain if the respondent is incarcerated (this information is usually available on-line in each state’s court system).
- Establish a support order based on the actual income of the parties (recognizing that imputation of income, i.e., minimum wage, should be used only sparingly).
- Ensure the guideline amount contains standards that balance the needs of low income families.
- Establish follow-up procedures to document that the respondent received a copy of the default order.
Judicial officials must remember that entering a default order will vary from state to state and there are significant differences in state law and practice. Supporting testimony should be entered on the record from the custodial parent or child support caseworker in each case. For a full discussion of default orders and strategies designed to promote the respondent’s appearance in court, review the National Council for Juvenile and Family Court Judge’s publication attached (A Practice Guide: Making Child Support Orders Realistic and Enforceable.)
The National Judicial - Child Support Task Force conducted a survey of fourteen states regarding percentages of orders established by default, how support is calculated, and the percentage of support collected pursuant to default orders (see pages 23-28). This survey/report titled Setting Appropriate Child Support Orders: Practical Techniques Used in Child Support Agencies and Judicial Systems in 14 States is attached (Setting Appropriate Child Support Orders). For current information about the child support program, policy matters, state and Federal office addresses, links to state websites, frequently asked questions, and links to related agencies, see the OCSE website. An additional home page website that may be of assistance to judicial officials is the National Center for State Courts (NCSC), which provides judicial branch links to each state.