Integrating Procedural Justice Principles into Child Support Case Management

How Staff Members Experienced the Procedural Justice-Informed Alternatives to Contempt (PJAC) Demonstration

By Jacqueline Groskaufmanis

The Procedural Justice-Informed Alternatives to Contempt (PJAC) demonstration project integrates principles of procedural justice into enforcement practices in six child support agencies across the United States. Procedural justice is fairness in processes that resolve disputes and result in decisions. Research has shown that if people perceive a process to be fair, they will be more likely to comply with the outcome of that process, whether or not the outcome is favorable to them.

Child support agencies aim to secure payments from noncustodial parents to support the well-being of their children. The PJAC demonstration project targets noncustodial parents who are at the point of being referred to the legal system for civil contempt of court because they have not met their child support obligations, though child support agency staff members have determined that they have the ability to pay. The goal of PJAC services is to address noncustodial parents’ reasons for nonpayment, improve the consistency of their payments, and promote their positive engagement with the child support agency and the custodial parent.

The PJAC demonstration was developed by the federal Office of Child Support Enforcement (OCSE), which is within the Administration for Children and Families in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. MDRC, in collaboration with research partners at MEF Associates and the Center for Court Innovation, is leading a random assignment study of the model’s effectiveness. Between 2018 and 2020, over 11,000 noncustodial parents were randomly assigned, either to a group who was offered PJAC services or to a “business-as-usual” group who instead proceeded with the standard contempt process. The Georgia Division of Child Support Services provides oversight of the evaluation.

This brief is the eighth in a series developed primarily for child support practitioners and administrators that shares lessons learned as the six child support agencies implement the PJAC model. It describes the delivery of PJAC services from PJAC case managers’ perspectives, drawing on interviews with PJAC staff members held in the spring of 2019 and the summer of 2020, data from the PJAC management information system, and PJAC case manager responses to a staff survey fielded in the spring of 2020.

Groskaufmanis, Jacqueline. 2021. “Integrating Procedural Justice Principles into Child Support Case Management.” New York: MDRC.