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Issue Alert - 02-04-02

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Apr 12, 2002

Issue Summary:

Family Independence Agency increases penalties for non-cooperation with child support collection and paternity establishment rules.

Persons Affected:

Persons applying for or receiving FIP cash assistance

For More Information:

Center for Civil Justice320 S. Washington, 2nd Floor Saginaw, MI 48607 (989) 755-3120, (800)724-7441 Fax: (989) 755-3558E-mail:


Family Independence Program (FIP)

What's Happening?

Effective April 1, 2002, penalties for non-compliance with child support and paternity establishment requirements have increased. The graduated penalty system has been eliminated and replaced with an immediate full family disqualification. Non-cooperation with child support or paternity rules without good cause will result in closure of the entire family’s FIP. The FIP case must remain closed for a minimum of one month. Good Cause for Non-Compliance with Child Support/Paternity RequirementsGood cause provisions for non-cooperation with child support collection and paternity establishment requirements remain the same. Good cause includes:1. Cases in which establishing paternity/securing support would harm the child, including:· The child was conceived due to incest or rape· Legal proceedings for the adoption of the child are pending before a court· A parent is receiving counseling from a public or licensed private social agency to decide if the child should be released for adoption, and the counseling has not gone on for more than three months.2. Cases in which there is danger of physical/emotional harm to the child or adult, including in the following situations:· Physical acts that resulted in, or threatened to result in physical injury· Sexual abuse· Sexual activity involving a dependent child· Being forced as the caretaker relative of a dependent child to engage in nonconsensual sexual acts or activities· Threats of, or attempts at, physical or sexual abuse· Mental abuse· Neglect or deprivation or medical care Home Visit PolicyAs part of a compromise with several advocacy groups, FIA agreed to require a home visit prior to the imposition of a sanction for non-compliance with either employment-related rules OR child support and paternity requirements. Final policy issued by FIA includes a detailed description of the home visit policy for employment-related sanctions in PEM 233A. However, the home visit policy for child support collection and paternity establishment requirements, in PEM 255, suggests that the home visit be completed after FIA notifies the parent that the disqualification is being imposed. A good faith effort to contact families in person if they may be subject to disqualification is particularly important when the disqualification is related to child support collection or paternity establishment, given the extremely sensitive reasons that families may have for not pursuing child support or disclosing information about a non-custodial parent. Moreover, written notices of non-compliance often do not reach families and those families who do receive them may not understand the notice of non-compliance, which does not explain what good cause is and how to claim it. In addition, many parents may be reluctant to disclose the details of a violent relationship during an initial meeting with an FIA caseworker or a Prosecuting Attorney. Home visits to assess family circumstances are critical to protect survivors of domestic violence from being unfairly punished by case closure in these situations. Reinstatement vs. Re-ApplicationIn accordance with an agreement between FIA and several advocacy groups, if a recipient completes a willingness to comply test or is found to have good cause or be eligible for a temporary deferral during the one-month penalty period, he or she will not be required to re-apply for assistance. In these circumstances FIA will “reinstate” FIP benefits immediately following the minimum, 30-day penalty period, rather than requiring a new application. However, even though the final child support policy in PEM Item 255 suggests that caseworkers must restore benefits, rather than require a new application, the separate Program Administrative Manual (PAM) policy on reinstatements fails to include cooperation with child support/paternity requirements during the initial one month penalty period in the list of reinstatement reasons. See PAM Item 205.

What Should Advocates Do?

· Monitor implementation of the new child support/paternity establishment sanction policy in your county or district· Share this information with others in your community, particularly women’s centers, domestic violence prevention groups, and shelters for women, families and/or domestic violence survivors.· Contact the Center for Civil Justice if you have additional questions, or if you are working with a parent who has been sanctioned for non-cooperation with child support collection and/or paternity establishment rules and the FIA did not conduct a home visit prior to imposing the sanction. · Contact the Center for Civil Justice if you are working with a parent who completed a “willingness to comply” test or demonstrated good cause during the 30-day sanction period, but FIA required her or him to reapply for benefits instead restoring FIP.

What Should Clients Do?

· Keep a record of the information you provide to FIA about your child’s non-custodial parent.· If collecting child support or providing information to FIA about your child’s non-custodial parent could put you or your child at risk, let your caseworker know that you believe you have good cause for not providing information and seek legal advice right away. (See “Finding Legal Help” in the box below.)· If you receive a notice of non-compliance with child support collection or paternity establishment requirements, seek legal help immediately. (See “Finding Legal Help” in the box below.)

Finding Help

Most legal aid and legal services office handle these type of cases, and they do not charge a fee. You can locate the "free" legal services or legal aid office that serves your county on the Michigan Legal Assistance Network website ( or look in the yellow pages under "attorneys" or call the toll-free lawyer referral number, (800) 968-0738