published Friday, December 13th, 2013

Free legal aid clinic kicks off at Hamilton County Juvenile Court

   
Hamilton County Juvenile Court
Hamilton County Juvenile Court
Staff Photo by David Barry

Next Legal Aid clinic

For information on the next Legal Aid clinic at Hamilton County Juvenile Court, contact Legal Aid of East Tennessee at 423-756-4013.

There were 22 participants — and many more questions — at the first free legal advice clinic aimed at child support problems in Hamilton County Juvenile Court.

Antwan Hannan, 34, and the father of two, came to the clinic Thursday because his seasonal job in roofing and tree trimming has slowed. He’s not making the money he was when the court set his monthly payment of $513.

The advice? Get a court-appointed lawyer. Quick.

The free legal aid clinic — an effort among Legal Aid of East Tennessee, Hamilton County Juvenile Court and the Court Clerk’s Office — came about to help people with less means understand what they need to do if they’re having trouble paying child support.

Legal Aid attorney Charlie McDaniel, who led the event, said if there’s demand the group will hold a monthly clinic at 1600 E. Third St.

Five lawyers, some volunteers and others with Legal Aid, sat with non-custodial parents and reviewed forms and fielded questions.

Much of what lawyers told parents who owe child support involved how to navigate a complicated process that involves multiple agencies.

Christy Cooper, director of the court clerk’s child support division, said the division receives daily calls about child support payments. Clerk’s office employees are barred from giving legal advice and can only direct people to other services.

If the custodial parent seeks government services such as TennCare, child care or food aid, then the state of Tennessee has the power to make the noncustodial parent pay their financial responsibility back to the state.

The hope is that by forcing parents to take financial responsibility, it will lessen the burden on taxpayers. But often the custodial parent will argue in court that not enough is done to push the other parent to pay.

“Once court-ordered child support is in effect, then the state’s involved and is responsible for enforcing the court order,” Cooper said.

Atop the fundamental mechanics of how child support operates, at least four agencies handle the process. The court clerk’s office handle the paperwork; the state becomes involved if health care or other services are needed. The state contracts with a private collection firm while Juvenile Court reviews nonpayments and issues contempt orders.

Those orders can revoke a state driver’s license, passport and even can result in jail time, Cooper said.

Legal Aid staff attorney Brian Frye said that, after meeting with a few parents, many seemed to understand their options more clearly. In most situations simply having an attorney review court documents or meet with a parent would cost money, money these parents don’t often have, he said.

That was one of Hannan’s problems. He knew he’d have to pay to file paperwork to ask for a change in his required child support. Yet he said if he had the money to hire a lawyer he wouldn’t need to make changes in his payments.

Contact staff writer Todd South at tsouth@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6347. Follow him on Twitter @tsouthCTFP.

about Todd South...

Todd South covers courts, poverty, technology, military and veterans for the Times Free Press. He has worked at the paper since 2008 and previously covered crime and safety in Southeast Tennessee and North Georgia. Todd’s hometown is Dodge City, Kan. He served five years in the U.S. Marine Corps and deployed to Iraq before returning to school for his journalism degree from the University of Georgia. Todd previously worked at the Anniston (Ala.) Star. Contact ...

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