Happy New Year! Welcome 2014

It’s been a really good year for South Carolina Access to Justice! Below is our newsletter that highlights a few items we’ve been working on.

SCATJ Newsletter End of Year 2013

Happy New Year Everyone!

~rfw

Guest Post from SC Center for Fathers and Families

This is a reprint of an article appearing in the SC Center for Fathers and Families enewsletter.

Civil contempt findings will no longer appear on SLED records 

The South Carolina Attorney General recently issued an opinion that civil contempt findings should not appear on South Carolina Law Enforcement criminal background checks. This opinion will have a favorable impact on non-custodial parents who have been found in civil contempt for failure to pay child support and have had the finding entered into their criminal record. Although civil contempt is not a crime, procedures at SLED did not allow these actions to be excluded from the records. The procedures for expungement only applied to criminal cases.

The Center for Fathers and Families has long advocated for changes in policies and practices that though well-intended created roadblocks for non-custodial parents, mostly fathers, being able to provide for their children. This practice of recording civil findings in a criminal background record was one such unnecessary barrier.

The Center had several concerns.

First, a criminal background is often a barrier to employment and because civil contempt findings appeared on the criminal background checks, employers viewed it as a criminal offense. Gaining and maintaining employment is critical to having the financial means to meet a child support obligation.

Second, only individuals who were found in contempt of non-payment of child support and were fingerprinted had the civil contempt entered into their criminal record.

Finally, the practice of fingerprinting individuals found in contempt and forwarding those records to SLED was inconsistently applied across the state. Because SC Legal Services shared these concerns, The Center and SC Legal Services partnered to address this growing problem.

A non-custodial parent, and in this case a mother, requested SC Legal Services’ assistance to have her more recent civil contempt for failure to pay child support removed from her SLED criminal record. Her criminal record included some criminal offenses, but these were very old and ironically were not hindering her employment chances as much as the recent incarceration for failure to pay child support. This case highlighted the problem of civil contempt on criminal records and its impact on individuals’ employment opportunities.

SC Legal Services submitted a written request to SLED for the removal of the civil contempt and the request was denied. SLED procedures were to record any offense that was a “fingerprintable” action and the expungement process could not be used because it was a civil, not  a criminal, action. However, because this case demonstrated the problem of civil contempt in individuals’ criminal records and the lack of internal procedures at SLED to address removal of civil contempt findings, SC Legal Services Lead Employment Attorney Jack Cohoon filed an Administrative Appeal to SLED’s Criminal History Administrative Appeal Board. SLED then requested an opinion from the Attorney General’s office concerning entering findings of civil contempt  into SLED criminal records.

The Attorney General’s opinion was issued on October 8, 2012. This opinion concluded that criminal records are maintained for criminal justice purposes. Since reporting civil contempt findings does not advance or relate to the enforcement of the criminal laws of South Carolina, these civil contempt findings are not criminal history and should not be entered into the State’s Criminal Information and Communication System nor in the federal NCIC ( National Crime Information Center) systems.

Because of this opinion, SLED will no longer enter civil contempt orders into the NCIC and state systems.

The Center is grateful to the partnership and support of SC Legal Services and for the favorable and fair opinion by the Attorney General.

The full opinion may be found  here.

February 2012 Newsletter

We are pleased to share our latest newsletter.

SCATJC February2012

If you have questions, please feel free to email me.

~RFW

Friday Resource: SC Center for Fathers and Families

Recently I’ve been receiving a lot of inquiries from fathers who want assistance with child support or child custody issues. And I have the perfect resource for them, the South Carolina Center for Fathers and Families.

Friday Resource-SC Fathers and Families

The South Carolina Center for Fathers and Families, a statewide nonprofit organization, was founded in 2002 by the Sisters of Charity Foundation of South Carolina. If you are not already familiar with the center, please explore their website.

And, for additional information about the impact, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Administration of Children and Families Office of Family Assistance featured the SC Center for Fathers and Families in a report released in May 2009.

-RFW

Father’s Day Focus: South Carolina Center for Fathers and Families

For the last few weeks, in my daily newspaper, I’ve seen ads reminding me that Father’s Day is coming and I should purchase that special gift for my father.

Happy Fathers Day: Here's a nice tie!

Happy Fathers Day: Here's a nice tie!

Well, my dad isn’t much for material gifts – goods or services. His repeated message to me is to be a happy, healthy, responsible and well-adjusted adult. And he’s offered me the gift of a stable role model, a provider for my family and someone who is available to talk to when things aren’t going so well or when something brings me joy. I’m lucky to have him in my life.

And that got me thinking, thinking about families where fathers aren’t always around.

Last spring the South Carolina Access to Justice Commission held public hearings around the state. And several fathers, participants in programs with the South Carolina Center for Fathers and Families, spoke up about the legal gaps they encounter.

  • Father #1 currently has a wife and four children at home, but also two children from a previous relationship. He pays his monthly child support. He does not have any visitation rights. He asked for help to be able to see his children.
  • Father #2 was incarcerated for being in arrears for his child support payments. As a result he was placed into the program and has been diligently working with the program.
  • Father #3 meets the federal poverty guidelines even though he is working. He has been diligently paying his child support for 3 years and still does not have any visitation.
  • Father #4 paid child support for years without any visitation. He came to the program for assistance with visitation. Communication with his child’s mother was at a stand-still. He was unable to make any headway until he came to the Fatherhood program and learned skills to communicate with his child’s mother. As a result of his new skills, he was finally able to obtain visitation.

Another father participated in the SCETV special program on The Big Picture which focused on the South Carolina Access to Justice Commission and Self-Represented Litigants.

The Center performs a needed service – uniting children with their fathers.  And that’s something good to remember this Father’s Day.

-RFW

For more information about the Center for Fathers and Families, you may want to review the history of the center. The Center was developed from “Reducing Poverty through Father Engagement,” which was launched in 1997.

Shameless Plug 2.0

This Thursday, December 11, 2008 at 7:30 p.m., tune in to your local SCETV station to watch The Big Picture with Mark Quinn. The South Carolina Access to Justice Commission has been working with Mark Quinn and the SCETV staff to produce a program about access to justice in general as well as self-represented litigants (SRLs).

Just this morning, SCETV interviewed Robin Wheeler, Executive Director of the South Carolina Access to Justice Commission, and Eric Smith, a father who successfully represented himself in a child custody action with assistance from the Midlands Fatherhood Coalition, a member of the SC Center for Fathers and Families funded by the Sisters of Charity Foundation of SC.

TV repeats of Thursdays broadcast will air each Saturday at 7:30 p.m. and again on Sunday at 1:00 p.m.

And don’t forget to tune in this Friday morning at 9:00 a.m. to the Big Picture radio show where the discussion continues.

-RFW 

Previously: http://scaccesstojustice.wordpress.com/?s=SCETV