Leonard, et al v. Blackburn, et al,

MER-L-3761-01

This civil rights suit addressed the arrest and jailing of defaulted child support obligors for weeks – sometimes even months – at a time without review of their incarcerations, and the ongoing inadequacy of the evidence adduced at such hearings that the jailed obligor has the current ability to pay any release amount set. In the worst case, a completely indigent obligor spent 93 days in jail before receiving any type of hearing at all, and the majority of plaintiffs had release amounts set without any evidence whatsoever that they had the ability to pay the thousands of dollars required for their release.

On January 22, 2002, Hon. Linda Feinberg, A.J.S.C. (Mercer) issued a ruling denying plaintiffs’ application for class certification and declined to address the issue of the adequacy of findings made at so-called “Ability to Pay” hearings. However, the court did address the issue of obligors being held for inordinate amounts of time without being reviewed (at least as to the named defendants). From now on, anyone arrested for defaulting on a child support obligation (or failing to appear for an enforcement hearing) must have a hearing within 72 hours and must thereafter be reviewed every two weeks.