The Bureau of Child Support Enforcement (BCSE) has a state and federal mandate to enforce parental support of children of single parents.
When the child was born in WV the father of the child, who lives in PA, was present at the birth. Thereafter, he did not complete a paternity affidavit, and the mother was not able to put his name on the birth certificate.
The father had paid nothing for pregnancy and birth costs, did not visit the child after the birth, and sent no child support. The mother was thus the child’s only support, only custodian, and only parent.
When the child was 5 month old, the mother was served with a summons from the West Virginia BCSE. The BCSE had filed a petition in the Family Court of West Virginia naming the father and mother respondents. The mother had never heard of the BCSE before this, and thus had not applied for BCSE services. Neither mother nor child was/is receiving any public assistance, or had applied for any. The court filing showed that the father had applied for full BCSE services: establishment of paternity, income withholding, and child support disbursement and enforcement.
Prior to receiving the summons, the mother received no notification that the BCSE was planning to open up a case on herself and her child, and thus was given no opportunity to respond to the BCSE action. When, a few days after receiving the summons she went to the Kingwood, WV BCSE office to try to learn what was going on, the mother spoke briefly with a person she presumed to be Cyndi Jenkins, although she never gave her name. Ms Jenkins refused to give the mother access to her file, told the mother the BCSE was representing the father, and insisted several times that the mother not ask for any child support (she said “Tell the court to set child support at zero”). She did not explain why the BCSE was telling a single mother to ask for no child support after it had filed a pleading in court asking that the father be assessed child support and medical costs, court costs and genetic testing costs. She told the mother she took the man who filed at his word that he was the father (the mother had not been asked to confirm that he was), and she had given him the mother’s and child’s social security numbers. The mother pointed out that sharing this information was not legal without getting consent. Ms Jenkins raised her voice, and ended the interview.
Next, again relying on WV code, the mother asked Charles Shaffer, the BCSE attorney in Morgantown, in writing, for information in her case file. The code requires Mr. Shaffer to respond in writing and, if he refused access to the personal information the BCSE had compiled about the mother and child, to state the reasons for refusing. Mr. Shaffer did not reply in writing. Instead he phoned the mother to tell her that the BCSE office had indeed shared her and her child’s ssn’s because, he said, the father had a right to them (remember, paternity had not been established, and certainly the father had no right to the mother’s ssn). Mr. Shaffer also repeated Ms Jenkins’ injunction, to ask for no child support. He also said that a Mr. Owens had asked for a genetic test in the case. The mother knows no Mr. Owens, and Mr. Shaffer did not share his identity. Mr. Shaffer also cautioned the mother not to get a lawyer.
The mother did retain an attorney, who asked Mr. Shaffer for access to the file in Discovery. Again, Mr. Shaffer did not reply in writing. The mother’s attorney did inform her that Mr. Shaffer phoned her and told her “It will be joint custody.”
The BCSE is not supposed to be involved in custody proceedings according to WV statute, its own stated policies, and, because the parties in this case live in different states, the federal UIFSA law.
According to WV code and Family Court Rules, the BCSE, upon acting on an application, must provide the court with the parties’ financial information. At the first hearing, which was held on September 3, 2015, the BCSE provided no financial information at all to the court. The father brought nothing but one pay stub — far short of the financial information both code, BCSE policy, and Family Court requires.
The court assessed temporary child support based on that single pay stub. Charles Shaffer protested loudly and at length insisting that the father could not possibly be earning as much money as the pay stub indicated, and demanding that the court lower his child support payments. Even when the father and his attorney objected, claiming that the pay stub accurately reflected the father’s income, Mr. Shaffer continued to insist that it did not, although he presented no evidence and documentation.
Although the court had not addressed most of the matters in the BCSE pleading: medical costs, retroactive support, and pregnancy and birth costs, Mr. Shaffer asked the court to enter a final support order. The court declined to do so. Mr. Shaffer did not bring up the court costs and genetic testing costs that, in its pleading, the BCSE had asked be assessed to Mr. Solomon.
The mother’s attorney made a motion to compel discovery of the BCSE file. Mr. Shaffer objected. The judge said he didn’t know the law, and didn’t know what to do. The mother’s attorney failed to pursue the matter.
Mr. Shaffer remained in the courtroom when the hearing proceeded to questions of visitation, even though the court dismissed him, and matters of custody are supposed to be conducted in a closed hearing. Mr. Shaffer interjected himself in the proceedings, asking that the court make decisions on visitations and custody, for which no pleadings had been entered, and which the court declined to do. Mr. Shaffer had no standing to even be present in the courtroom at this point, much less, as the BCSE attorney, to interject himself into a custody proceeding.
The mother then contacted the privacy officer at the BCSE in Charleston, and explained the peculiarities of the case so far, and for asked to access her file. He refused, again without explanation, and claimed that no ssn’s had been shared. He did not identify “Mr. Owens.”
The case remained open for more than a year after the first hearing. The final order for child support, retroactive support, medical support, and pregnancy and birth costs was entered at the final trial. The court sent the order to the BCSE for enforcement, noting in its order that only one party need apply to receive BCSE services. The father had already applied, and it was in response to his application that the BCSE opened and compiled a case file and filed the pleading in Family Court. Therefore, BCSE services should have commenced immediately.
BCSE services did not commence. Instead, the mother received an application with no explanation from the Morgantown office. She replied by letter to the Kingwood office, noting that both the judge and BCSE policy stated that only one party need apply for services (http://www.dhhr.wv.gov/bcse/parents/Pages/default.aspx) “Either or both parents can apply for services with the Bureau.”). Obviously, by the very nature of the services it provides, the BCSE must require only one application to commence collection of child support. The mother asked the BCSE to provide her with a BCSE debit card for child support disbursement.
The mother received no reply to her letter. She next phoned BCSE customer service in Charleston, and was told that her case was in the computer, with a case number and a case worker (although she has never been contacted by any case worker). The person she spoke to did not know why she was not receiving services.
Next the mother got in touch with the BCSE district manager, Erin Cain. She was unpleasant, and told the mother that her case had been closed. She did not answer the mother’s question about where the BCSE policy was stated which allowed a case to be closed before a final support order, without notifying the parties, or closed when the court ordered the BCSE to enforce support. Her answer was that she didn’t care what the court ordered, and no one could force her to follow a court order.
In a custody hearing several months later, the father and his attorney told the court that he had applied for BCSE services, having filled out all the paperwork, and that a case had been opened. At the custody trial, the father produced and entered into the record a receipt from the BCSE for an electronic child support payment he made the previous day.
Although code requires the BCSE to disburse the payment within two days, the other received no payment, but received, by certified mail, an application for services from the Kingwood office.
Why is the BCSE is keeping from the child the support which the court and the law and this country’s stated social and legal policy say is due to her? And why is the BCSE interfering in custody matters?
It is the money of West Virginia taxpayers that has been wasted on this case: the genetic test and the court costs, as well as BCSE financial costs, were not paid by the father, who now owes more than $10,000 in support. They were paid for by the state, even though this case need never have been brought at all, and certainly not brought by the BCSE.