A law suit challenging New Jersey’s automatic suspension of driver’s licenses for child support arrears says that the Division of Family Development misled lawmakers to convince them that the program is a success.
The Department of Human Services, Division of Family Development (DFD) administers the child support computer system. In reports to the Legislature from 2006-08, the DFD said an average of $33 million in additional child support was collected annually under a program which provides for automatic suspensions of driver’s licenses. They said, on average, they collected of $1,737 per suspension.
However, changes to the child support computer system which allowed for more accurate tracking, show that from 2010 through 2014 the state averaged each year about 20,000 suspensions and collected only $5.3 million or an average of $259 per license suspension, according to reports obtained through discovery.
Rather than reconciling the 600% inflation of the numbers, annual reports on the progress of the license suspension program mysteriously stopped. From 2009 through 2013 no reports exist and in 2014 the drastically lower numbers were noted as due to a “change in data collection.”
The New Jersey Child Support Program Improvement Act, signed into law in 1998, requires annual reports to the Legislature about the program’s operation. [“Child Support: Is Losing Your License Legal?“, “Oppressive Government: Licenses & Child Support“]
In Kavadas v. Martinez, a law suit challenging the state’s practice of suspending driver’s licenses without conducting a hearing for nonpayment of child support, David Perry Davis, a New Jersey lawyer who represents the plaintiffs says the suspension of a driver’s license in such cases is “self-defeating” because it may prevent a parent from going to work, applying for jobs or seeing his or her children. [“American Poverty: An American Criminal Subclass“, “Unemployment, Child Support & Bradley Law“]
Davis also stresses the point that there is no way to determine what collections are attributable to license suspensions when they occur automatically upon the issuance of an arrest warrant. “Obviously, an arrested obligor’s interest is in getting out of jail – the idea that they are more motivated to do this because their license has been suspended is absurd,” Davis told the Bergen Dispatch.
In essence, the Division of Family Development claims that 100% of the money collected as a result of an arrest warrant is due solely to the automatic suspension of a driver’s license and arrests and incarceration have no impact on the money collected by the state.
“The suit does not seek to stop the suspension of driver’s licenses to force parties to pay child support, instead it attempts to limit the practice to cases where a hearing is conducted and a judge determines that it would be appropriate,” Davis said. The suit claims that the state’s practice of automatic suspensions is “unconstitutional and is contrary to the intent of the Legislature.”
“The 2014 Report still dramatically misrepresents the process, failing to inform the legislature that 99.429% of suspensions are done without a contemporaneous hearing,” Davis added.
Named as defendants in the suit are Raymond Martinez, chief administrator of the New Jersey Motor Vehicle Commission; the State of New Jersey; the Motor Vehicle Commission; acting Attorney General John Hoffman; and Natasha Johnson, director of the Office of Child Support Services in the state Department of Human Services.
The program stems from a 1996 federal law requiring states to toughen their child support procedures in order to qualify for certain types of federal aid. The federal Personal Responsibility Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996 (PRWORA) called for states to develop legislation to increase ways in which compliance with child support orders could be increased.
PRWORA also requires New Jersey residents receiving benefits under Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) to sign over any right to child support to their respective County. In those cases, monies collected through child support enforcement are used to reimburse the counties for TANF benefits and do not go directly to the families.
The 2014 report states, “Clearly the implementation of this program has positively impacted families that rely upon receiving support and, as an indirect benefit, has resulted in an additional revenue stream for the Motor Vehicle Commission.”
In order for a suspended license to be restored the Motor Vehicle Commission charges a $100 restoration fee.
In state fiscal year 2014 a total of 20,498 drivers’ licenses were suspended under the program, resulting in support collections of $4,333,543 or just $211 per suspension – plus $2,049,800 in additional fees to the MVC.
According to the Department of Human Services, Division of Family Development, on average, there are about 35,000 active child support warrants at any given time.