The New Jersey Judiciary has taken steps to ensure that the constitutional rights of poorer parents are protected, especially when these parents are unable to keep up with their court-mandated child support payments, family attorneys in New Jersey report. A statewide directive from the Administrative Office of the Courts has revised a standard form, which judges must now fill out as part of the child support enforcement proceeding, to ensure that they have made the right call regarding a parent’s situation.
The directive, No. 02-14, is the state’s most recent attempt to follow the stipulations laid out in a 2006 child support case, Pasqua v. Council, 186 N.J. 127. In this case, a New Jersey judge ruled that the courts can send a local parent to jail, should he or she fall into arrears in child support payments, so long as the parent has the ability to pay the support, but refuses to do so. Pasqua also set the precedent for court-appointed counsel as required under both the state and the federal constitution.
Family lawyers in New Jersey say that the directive was prompted by the increasing number of appeals in the Appellate Division and the state Supreme Court, brought by parents who have been locked up for their failure to pay child support. In most of these cases, the parents have cited their poor living situations and lack of income as reasons for non-payment. Complaints have been made to the courts, claiming that there is “widespread noncompliance” with the state dictate that no one should be jailed as a means to force them to pay their debts, unless a judge finds evidence to support the person’s ability to pay their debts, as set by the court. Training on how to handle these cases will be provided to judges and court staff members, to avoid improper decisions.
To support the need for the directive, New Jersey legislators and litigators have looked to recent examples of improper action in these cases. In Bergen County, a Family Part judge ordered Jeremy Crump to attend a work release program as penalty for failing pay child support. At the time he was sentenced, Crump owed more than $22,000 to one woman, and over $25,000 to another, for support for his two children. He was held in jail over a holiday weekend, and then sentenced, even though the judge did not make an investigation into Crump’s ability to make his payments. He issued two orders for the work-release program, each of which has a $2,500 release amount.
On appeal, the Appellate Division found that Crump’s hearing had not been handled according to the laws of the constitution, but still dismissed his appeal. Crump then turned to the Supreme Court for emergent relief, a pattern that has been repeated in many of these cases, and which has prompted the need for the Administrative Office to take action.
If you are having trouble making your child support payments, and have been threatened with work-release program enrollment or jail time, contact a family attorney at the New Jersey law firm Helmer, Conley, and Kasselman, PA. Our attorneys represent parents of all financial status who need help defending themselves and their families in court.