November 19, 2012

Hot Report: Criminal Record Checks and Child Support Delinquency

OLR Report 2012-R-0480 explains (1) why Connecticut law enforcement officials do not have the authority to arrest and bring to court delinquent child support obligors, (2) for policy options to address this issue, and (3) if surrounding states give law enforcement officials such authority.

When a person fails to appear in court for a child support matter, the court often issues a capias warrant to compel the person to appear in court. The law does not explicitly prohibit law enforcement officers from serving a capias but it appears that a capias is considered civil process and law enforcement officers are only authorized to serve criminal process, such as criminal arrest warrants. Child support enforcement officials believe that it is the law enforcement community's interpretation of the law that they cannot serve capias warrants and in practice they do not do so.

The legislature could consider a number of options to address this situation. It could explicitly authorize law enforcement officers to serve a capias or allow them to detain someone until another authorized official arrives. To do so, officers would need capias information in their criminal database. It could also hire and authorize more officials to serve capias warrants. Each of these options has limitations, including budget constraints.

We contacted officials in Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, and Vermont. Rhode Island appears to be the only state of those we contacted that gives law enforcement officials the authority to arrest and bring to court child support obligors who have failed to appear in court in response to a witness subpoena. In that state, the court issues a “writ of body attachment,” which immediately gets transmitted into the Rhode Island warrant system. Law enforcement has access to this information when responding to potential criminal offenses and officers will arrest these individuals on the basis of the writs.

According to officials from Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and New York, law enforcement officers do not currently have the power to arrest someone on the basis of a capias arrest warrant. However, the Massachusetts Department of Revenue Services Child Support Enforcement Division has proposed legislation to authorize the child support agency and family courts to identify appropriate capias warrants for entry into the criminal database. Law enforcement officers would then know that the family court has ordered apprehension of the delinquent parent. It is unclear if officers would have the authority to arrest delinquent parents.

For more information, read the full report.