Accountability Court

Within our Maricopa County Superior Court system is the Accountability Court — a problem-solving forum with a very specific purpose. Through contempt proceedings, the Accountability Court enforces support arrearages and improves future compliance with orders.

Who Comes Before the Accountability Court?

The Accountability Court deals with those who are chronically noncompliant with their support orders. The parent who made one late child support payment (or the ex-spouse who wrote one accidental NSF check) is not a likely candidate for this problem-solving court. Those are one-time transgressions and not necessarily indicative of any arrearage problem. Instead, AC is reserved for those who are chronically delinquent, having established a pattern of nonpayment.

Motion for Referral to Accountability Court

In these post-decree cases, the individual obligee (the party receiving support) may file a Motion for Referral to Accountability Court. In an IV-D enforcement matter in which the Arizona DES seeks to collect support from a non-compliant parent, the State Attorney General may request that the matter be referred to AC.

When the obligor is behind in court-ordered support payments, evidence is submitted and a sum certain is established to recover support arrearages (including principal and interest). The Family Court will sanction the obligor, held in contempt, including confinement in the county jail for an indefinite period. The party is released upon presentment of a “purge payment” which must be paid in cash. The purge payment is a portion of the support arrears owed. For example, if the child support arrearages were $18,348, the purge payment might be set at $1,500. The obligor remains in the county jail, in custody, until the cash purge payment is made.

In granting the Motion for Referral to Accountability Court, the Family Court Judge will order the obligor to appear for an AC hearing at a specific time and date. (The Judge may deny the motion, yet still recommend that the case be referred to AC if the obligor is noncompliant with the support order in the future.) Although the obligee need not be present at the AC hearing, he or she is welcome to appear. Unless the obligor remains in custody for not making the purge payment, a hearing will be held with the AC Judge. If the obligor fails to appear at the scheduled AC hearing as ordered, then the Court may find that person in contempt, again, and issue a support arrest warrant. A judgment may be entered for additional arrearages.

Goals of the Accountability Court

There are two primary goals of the Accountability Court. First, to mobilize the obligor into implementing a reasonable payment plan that effectively pays down the total amount of back support owed. Second, to diminish the cost on community taxpayers of jailing parents and ex-spouses for contempt of court. The idea is to enforce compliance with support orders by working with the obligor to address core issues leading to noncompliance, without having to resort to jail time as punishment. The program has been very successful in getting support dollars flowing again, without additional cost to area taxpayers.

The parents and ex-spouses who are ordered to appear before the AC Judge are involved in what are deemed to be continuing contempt proceedings. The contempt proceedings are scheduled periodically until the obligor pays the entire past due support amount and establishes a pattern of consistent payments.

Even though these are contempt proceedings, the program involves a less adversarial approach to collecting past due support. The obligors in these proceedings are enabled to overcome obstacles that interfere with their ability to maintain compliance with support. The AC Judge requires financial responsibility. While under continuing contempt proceedings, the obligor must comply with all judicial orders requiring the payments toward arrearages and current support amounts or face incarceration. With the obligor appearing periodically before the AC, the Judge can closely monitor payments and compliance. The AC special court program does work, which greatly improves the financial stability of the families involved in these cases.

Who Comes Before the Accountability Court?

The Accountability Court deals with those who are chronically noncompliant with their support orders. The parent who made one late child support payment (or the ex-spouse who wrote one accidental NSF check) is not a likely candidate for this problem-solving court. Those are one-time transgressions and not necessarily indicative of any arrearage problem. Instead, AC is reserved for those who are chronically delinquent, having established a pattern of nonpayment.

Motion for Referral to Accountability Court

In these post-decree cases, the individual obligee (the party receiving support) may file a Motion for Referral to Accountability Court. In a IV-D enforcement matter in which the Arizona DES seeks to collect support from a non-compliant parent, the State Attorney General may request that the matter be referred to AC.

When the obligor is behind in court-ordered support payments, evidence is submitted and a sum certain is established to recover support arrearages (including principal and interest). The Family Court will sanction the obligor, hold in contempt, including confinement in the county jail for an indefinite period. The party is released upon presentment of a “purge payment” which must be paid in cash. The purge payment is a portion of the support arrears owed. For example, if the child support arrearages were $18,348, the purge payment might be set at $1,500. The obligor remains in the county jail, in custody, until the cash purge payment is made.

In granting the Motion for Referral to Accountability Court, the Family Court Judge will order the obligor to appear for an AC hearing at a specific time and date. (The Judge may deny the motion, yet still recommend that the case be referred to AC if the obligor is noncompliant with the support order in the future.) Although the obligee need not be present at the AC hearing, he or she is welcome to appear. Unless the obligor remains in custody for not making the purge payment, a hearing will be held with the AC Judge. If the obligor fails to appear at the scheduled AC hearing as ordered, then the Court may find that person in contempt, again, and issue a support arrest warrant. A judgment may be entered for additional arrearages.