Government, Human Resources, and Law

Task force tackles child support enforcement

December 23, 2016
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County buildings valued at nearly a half-billion
The Kent County Courthouse is a landmark in downtown Grand Rapids. Photo by Johnny Quirin

The Friend of the Court in Kent County estimates there are about 6,000 children who are not receiving their court-ordered child support from 3,500 delinquent payers.

With that in mind, Jim Saalfeld, Kent County Board of Commissioners chair, and Kathleen Feeney, 17th Circuit Court Family Division presiding judge, have teamed to create a Friend of the Court Community Engagement Task Force.

The task force, in addition to providing a forum for dialogue and researching best practices for enforcement, will provide recommendations to the Circuit Court on how to enforce bench warrants by March 31.

Bench warrants, written orders by a judge authorizing an arrest, are issued “as a last resort when a person does not pay child support and does not attend scheduled hearings with Family Court,” the county said.

“Our Friend of the Court's goal is to resolve support disputes without arrests,” Feeney said. “Our Friend of the Court office is there to assist parents when conditions deserve another look, but we can’t help if payers won’t work with us.”

Lisa LaPlante, Kent County community liaison and communications director, said if a parent doesn’t pay child support, they have multiple chances to come to Friend of the Court and resolve the payment.

“If the parent doesn’t show, then a show cause hearing is scheduled, which is trying to get the person to come to court and resolve it," LaPlante said. "If they don’t show to that, then that’s when a bench warrant is issued.

“Another way to deal with it is if the deputies say, ‘Hey, you have a bench warrant,’ and the deputies can work with you to pay your support instead of hauling you off to jail. That’s one of the things they’re going to study in the task force.”

Saalfeld said his primary concern is the children.

“This task force brings together experts in child support issues and members of the community to provide input to ensure children are not left behind by parents who should be supporting their children,” he said.

The Friend of the Court is extending its moratorium on taking enforcement action in Grand Rapids until the task force’s work is completed.

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