CHILD SUPPORT SPECIALTY COURT
The collection of child support has
always been a difficult problem for prosecutors throughout the United States.
The only "teeth" the courts have for getting many fathers to adequately support
their children is the threat of and actually imposing jail sentences. Then the
noncustodial parent builds up an extensive arrearage of the child support debt,
the ultimate penalty has universally been charging him/her with the felony
offense of flagrant nonsupport.
This criminal sanction carries a severe
ramification on the offender long after the service of time in prison or even
the lesser sanction of probation. Now the individual has a criminal record and
the chances of obtaining meaningful employment is drastically reduced. The
tentacles of suffering after this, reaches the child, the mother, and the state.
Trying to collect current payment obligations and past arrearage is like trying
to dig through an iceberg with a child's sandbox shovel. In Lexington, we have
over 5,000 people who owe over $5,000 in arrearage. The amount is staggering.
In 2011, our office started a new program to attack this problem from a
different perspective. District Judge Bruce Bell consented to serve as Judge for
the newly created Child Support Specialty Court. When our office charges an
individual with a felony nonsupport charge, they get the option of having their
case heard by the Grand Jury and facing the resulting criminal conviction or
having his case monitored by Judge Bell. The choice is easy for most
By choosing to take his "chance" in the Specialty court,
each person is closely evaluated for drug/alcohol dependence, education,
employment skills, and parenting history. Our office provides three employees to
supervise each individual, and we closely monitor each of these categories.
In the last two years, we have contacted 100 businesses which have agreed to
hire convicted felons. Through our office, over 36 individuals have obtained
employment and since the creation of Judge Bell's court, the participants have
paid $103,000 into their child support obligations.
If the accused does
not have regular and meaningful contact with their child, the Judge requires
him/her to attend 16 weeks of parenting classes, which this office provides with
a highly qualified employee with a social work degree.
Every week, Judge
Bell monitors the progress or lack thereof of each defendant, and it becomes
quickly apparent to every individual that we are taking a special interest in
There are similar programs like this across the country
with one major exception. In our program, the individual who successful complies
with the programs in his/her life that we monitor and who is able to hold a
steady job and make substantial headway on the arrearage receives a dismissal of
the felony charge, and THE RECORD IS EXPUNGED.
My goal for this office is
to gradually expand this program to include more defendants and more judges or a
full-time judge to handle the caseload.