Making Justice RealThe Official Blog of the Legal Aid Society of the District of Columbia
Legal Aid Testifies on OAG/CSSD Policies and Performance at D.C. Council Committee Hearings
Last Wednesday, Ashley McDowell and Meridel Bulle-Vu, both Staff Attorneys at Legal Aid, and Project Attorneys at the Child Support Resource Center (recently blogged about here), gave written and oral testimony to the District of Columbia Council Committee on Public Safety and the Judiciary regarding the Office of the Attorney General (OAG). Their testimony specifically focused on the policies and performance of the Child Support Services Division (CSSD). Vanessa Batters-Thompson, who is a Staff Attorney at Bread for the City, a project partner, also gave testimony as well.
Meridel’s testimony focused on CSSD’s policy of opposing the disestablishment of paternity in all cases, even when a parent has proof of non-paternity in the form of a DNA test. In one case, a putative father signed an Acknowledgement of Paternity after his then-girlfriend told him that he was the father. Three years later, after a child support order had been established, his girlfriend told him that he was not in fact the child’s father. He promptly informed the court, and both he and the mother asked the court to grant a DNA test to determine the truth. The court then ordered a DNA test which excluded the man as the father. Notwithstanding these facts, CSSD fought the disestablishment efforts every step of the way, and it took nearly a year and a half of regular hearings before the case concluded and the mother could move on to establish paternity with the real biological father.
Ashley testified about CSSD’s enforcement policies and their failure to enforce child support orders in a timely fashion. Her testimony described instances where CSSD has pursued low-income parents for child support that was due in the 1980’s and 1990’s, despite the fact that the subject children were often adults with families of their own. Many of these parents were unable to pay child support due to long periods of incarceration, unemployment, or mental and physical disabilities. Additionally, CSSD has often tried to collect child support judgments that have actually expired due to the statute of limitations. She encouraged CSSD to focus these valuable enforcement resources on cases where collecting past due child support will have a more direct impact on the wellbeing of the District’s children.
Their written testimony can be accessed here.