There are always probing questions that need answers. Where do we come from? What is the meaning of life? Why is the State’s Attorney’s Office involved in child support cases? You are on your own for the first two questions but this article attempts to answer the third.
The short answer is that the DuPage County State’s Attorney’s Office (SAO) operates through an intergovernmental agreement with the Illinois Department of Healthcare and Family Services (HFS) to provide legal services which include the establishment of paternity, the establishment of child support, the establishment of medical insurance, and the enforcement of child support obligations. All of this occurs under the auspices of Title IV-D of the Federal Social Security Act; thus the use of the term “IV-D Program.” This Program is open to anyone regardless of income level.
The long answer begins here with an explanation of the IV-D program. Please keep in mind that while week-long conferences are held covering the intricacies of this complex program, this article provides a simple overview.
The Title IV-D Child Support Program is a federally required program established in 1975 to provide for parentage and child support establishment and child support obligation enforcement.1 Each state is required to operate an IV-D support Program and each state is required to designate a central IV-D Agency. In Illinois, the designated agency is the Department of Healthcare and Family Services (HFS).
There are several major functions of the IV-D program:
1) parent location; 2) paternity establishment; 3) establishment of child support orders, including medical support; 4) review and modification of child support orders; 5) enforcement of support orders, and 6) act upon referrals from other jurisdictions/states through the Uniform Interstate Family Support Act (UIFSA).
There is a common misconception that only those families receiving cash assistance or other state benefits are required to participate. The program has no income restrictions and is available to all parents in Illinois. However, there are different rules for those families receiving cash assistance and those who do not receive such assistance. Families who receive benefits through Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), and foster care payments or Medicaid (in Illinois this is called All Kids) are automatically enrolled for IV-D services and must cooperate with the program. Federal law requires families who receive TANF cash assistance to assign their child support rights to the state in order to receive TANF. Families that receive benefits under the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) or families not receiving any assistance may voluntarily enroll for IV-D services.
Collections on behalf of families receiving cash TANF benefits are generally used to reimburse state and federal governments for TANF payments made to the family. Child support collected on behalf of both TANF and non-assistance families must go through the State Disbursement Unit (SDU).
The State Disbursement Unit (SDU) is another federally mandated process. Each state is required to have an SDU which operates as a centralized child support payment and processing center. It’s only function is as a clearinghouse. It does not track balances, issue income withholding orders or record the details of a support order. Both IV-D families and non IV-D families are required to make payments through the SDU.
The SDU records payments made only through the SDU. For those families enrolled in the IV-D program, payment records can also be obtained from HFS. The SDU transmits payment records to the Clerk of the Circuit Court of DuPage County as well. These records are transmitted electronically to the Clerk and applied to the appropriate account indicating the date by which the payment was received.
As noted above, in Illinois, the Title IV-D program is administered by HFS, Division of Child Support Services (DCSS). The State’s Attorney’s Office (SAO), through the Child Support Enforcement Unit, represents HFS in the administration of the IV-D program. There is often confusion among both lawyers and IV-D participants about the nature of the representation of the SAO in a child support action. An attorney-client relationship does not exist between the IV-D applicant or any other party to a child support action and the SAO.2 The SAO represents HFS exclusively and IV-D participants are required to sign a disclosure regarding legal representation when they apply for IV-D services indicating they understand the SAO is not their attorney.
The role of the SAO in child support cases is limited to: 1) the establishment of paternity; 2) the establishment, review and modification of a support order, including medical support; and 3) the enforcement of support orders. The SAO is prohibited by law from being involved with issues such as custody and visitation, college expenses, and child care.3 As noted briefly above, the SAO also acts upon referrals from other states through UIFSA.
The SAO is not authorized to conduct account reviews or perform enforcement for non-IV-D cases. A private attorney must be obtained for these purposes or a person may represent themselves pro se.
It is important to remember that once HFS or the SAO are involved in a case it is appropriate to serve notice just as one would on a party litigant. Issues often arise when HFS and/or the SAO are not provided proper notice in a matter and an order is entered which affects child support. It is not automatic that the SAO will actively participate in the case, but it is crucial that the orders, especially those affecting support are tendered to the state so that records can be adjusted accordingly.
Most account balance issues arise from HFS not being informed of the change in support terms or of an arrearage determination. If a non-custodial parent refuses to pay child support and/or he or she has accumulated arrearages, the SAO, in conjunction with HFS, have certain legal and administrative remedies.
These remedies include income withholding, contempt proceedings, intercept of federal and state tax refunds, intercept of unemployment compensation, property liens, credit bureau reports, intercept of lottery winnings, suspension of driver’s licenses, professional licenses, and recreational and sporting licenses of persons who owe past-due support, and seizure of assets from financial institutions. Moreover, federal law authorizes the Secretary of State to deny, revoke, or restrict passports of debtor parents. Federal law also provides for interstate and international enforcement of child support.4 It is important to understand that all of the remedies set forth above, which are administrative remedies, must be addressed through the appeal process set forth by the agency taking the action noted. The state will and often does assert the separation of powers argument when their administrative remedies are attacked.
In summary, the SAO acts on behalf of HFS in the various family courts in DuPage County through the IV- D program.
When we appear before the Court, the SAO represents HFS and not any individual party or person. The SAO role is limited to acting upon those matters referred to the SAO by HFS for legal action. We do not have the authority to act unilaterally in issues that involve IV-D child support cases. While we try and be helpful in resolving the many issues that arise in the IV-D program, our reach is limited.
The SAO handles IV-D cases where ever they may land. There is a method, though, to how SAO cases get to the various courtrooms. Basically, IV-D cases in DuPage County end up in Courtroom 4016 before the Administrative Hearing Officer or in Courtroom 2011 before a judge. The SAO will also follow cases that are motioned in other courtrooms in the Domestic Relations Division. The SAO is also a collaborator in the Agreed Support and Parenting Time Program or ASAP (the “T” is silent). A brief description of what occurs in each area follows.
Expedited Child Support or “The 4016 Call”. DuPage County operates an Expedited Child Support call in courtroom 4016 of the DuPage County Courthouse. The Expedited Child support program in DuPage County is funded through a grant with HFS.
It is limited to IV-D child support cases only. The concept is to utilize a hearing officer to facilitate agreements on issues involving the establishment or modification of parentage and support only. The only exception is that IV-D UIFSA matters are also filed into the Expedited Process. In the Expedited Process we try to … expedite matters. It is designed to address those issues that can be resolved through agreements and/or with the assistance of the Hearing Officer. Those issues that are unresolved, or issues of visitation, custody, day care or any other “non IV-D” matters, are set in courtroom 2011.
Enforcement matters are not addressed on the 4016 call. Either party can opt out of the Expedited Process and request that their case be set in Courtroom 2011.
In July of 2013, the Expedited Process began using electronic orders. Currently, orders are prepared on laptops by the Assistant State’s Attorney in the Hearing Room. The order is then reviewed with the parties on an iPad. The parties and/or their attorney then sign the order on the iPad. Once signed the order appears on the laptop of the Hearing Officer for his review and e-signature. After the Hearing Officer signs the order, it is locked and appears on the Judge’s queue for his/her e-signature. This process has greatly reduced the number of errors that were the result of illegible orders, omissions and/or scrivener’s errors.
Domestic Relations Courtrooms. DuPage County IV-D judicial matters are handled as a matter of course in Courtroom 2011. All judicial enforcement matters filed by the SAO are set in 2011. These matters include any petitions for judgment and petition for rule to show cause. Courtroom 2011 also handles all matters that not been resolved in the Expedited Process. SAO IV-D matters are set and handled on the daily call in Courtroom 2011 just as any other matter would be handled.
There are also a number of divorce or “D” cases in which HFS has some involvement. These cases involve a party who has or had services through HFS and thus HFS may have an interest in the matter. When the SAO becomes involved in one of these cases, a request is routinely made to move the matter to Courtroom 2011 where all IV-D cases are heard. The SAO will, of course, handle the matter in whichever courtroom the Court deems proper.
ASAP (Agreed Support and Parenting Time). ASAP is a new program developed by the collaborationof the SAO, HFS, DuPage Family Center, the Clerk of the Circuit court, and the Circuit Court. The program puts into practice often discussed concept of the “one-stop shop.” Participants can apply for IV-D services, establish parentage, establish support and agree to a parenting time schedule all at the same time.
In essence, a process that could take months is handled in a few hours. There are a few restrictions on participants. First, one or both of the parties must be IV-D service Recipients. Again, there is no financial restriction for services and the program is open to all. If neither party is an IV-D service recipient, they can apply on site. Second, both parties must appear with the documents required for the program. (This information is given to them when they schedule their appointment.) Finally, and most importantly, there must be a reasonable expectation that an agreement can be reached. Any case that involves domestic violence will be excluded from the program. ASAP sessions currently take place on the third Tuesday of each month at the Family Center from 1:00 p.m. to 3:00 p.m. Appointments can be made by contacting the SAO at 630-407-8005. The information provided herein is just a high level overview of the IV-D child Support Program. More information regarding HFS can be found at http://www.childsupportillinois.com or by calling 1-800-447-4278. The SAO Child support Unit can be reached at 630-407-8005.
1 United States Code, Title 42, Chapter 7, Subchapter IV, Part D, Child support and Establishment of Paternity.
2 305 ILCS 5/10-3.1.=
3 United State Code, Title 42, Chapter 7, Subchapter IV, Part D, Child Support and Establishment of Paternity.
4 United States Code, Title 42, Chapter 7, Subchapter IV, part D, Child Support and Establishment of Paternity.
Robert Lyons is the Deputy Chief DuPage County state’s attorney responsible for supervising the child support program. Prior to this position, he was a Cook County assistant state’s attorney, administrator of the Illinois IV-D program, a deputy Illinois attorney general for child support, and was in private practice. He received his undergraduate degree from the University of Illinois in 1982, and his J.D. from The John Marshall Law School in 1987.
Monique O’Toole is an Assistant State’s Attorney with the Child Support Enforcement Unit of the Dupage County State’s Attorney’s Office. Previously, she was in private practice, was an assistant attorney general, and a DuPage assistant state’s attorney. She is a member of the DuPage County Bar Association, the Illinois Prosecutors Bar Association and serves on the Board of Directors of the Illinois Family Support Enforcement Association. Monique received her J.D. from The John Marshall Law School in 1992 and received her bachelor’s degree from the University of Colorado in 1989.