No More Friend of the Court for Child Support?

Child support collection and enforcement to be privatized in Michigan.
Just yesterday, we posted a note asking whether child support collection should be privatized. It turns out we weren't the only ones asking. Today we learned from that Chief Judge Mary Beth Kelly of the Circuit Court of Wayne County, Michigan, will announce that the court is soliciting bids from private companies to replace Wayne County's Friend of the Court program. This program has been collecting child support but, according to the story, "has been criticized as inefficient, overburdened and mistake-prone."

Under the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act (PRWORA), each state is supposed to set up a "centralized disbursement unit" through which all child support payments are to be made. If that is so, how can Wayne County set up its own system? The answer is that technically, it hasn't. All child support payments previously received by the Friend of the Court office are sent to the centralized disbursement unit in Lansing, then remitted to custodial parents from there.

This won't be the first time that Michigan has contracted out for child support services. Michigan's central disbursement unit itself has been in private hands since 2005. But does PRWORA permit a state to contract with private parties for child support services? If the service provided is just receiving and disbursing money, that's one thing. But the Friend of the Court office also has enforcement responsibilities.

Private enterprise might well prove more cost-efficient at collecting child support. However, we remain wary of delegating the state's enforcement power to a private company.

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