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Accountability Court helps unemployed parents behind in child support payments

PHOENIX — Unemployed Arizonans who are behind in their child support payments are getting some help with a program from the Maricopa County Superior Court.

They can be referred by a judicial officer to the county’s Accountability Court.

“Accountability Court is a problem solving court that is designed to secure the timely payment of child support, while also assisting parents who have challenges such as chronic unemployment, under-employment or homelessness. We help them with such things as job searches,” said Janet Barton, a family court presiding judge. “We help them with financial planning, and perhaps writing a resume. We help them with targeting them towards employers who may be receptive towards employing people with their problems. We’re just trying to take this population that we feel would pay their child support, if they were in a position to do so, and put them in that position.”

One of those people is 24-year-old Shawn Thomas of Gilbert. He had been living with his girlfriend, but that came to an end a few years ago.

“My ex and I split up, and I have a 5-year-old daughter,” said Thomas.

He was ordered to pay child support but was unemployed and became $8,000 behind in his payments. A few months ago, he was referred to the Accountability Court by a judicial officer. Now, he has a job with Evergreen Turf and is able to make his $300 monthly child support payments.

“It’s helped me stay on top of things,” Thomas said.

He now has a new girlfriend, and something else new in his life. “I am happy to be having another kid. It’s a boy, so I’m excited.”

Right now, there are more than 350 people involved in the Accountability Court program who owe a combined $16 million in back child support.