Families left in limbo by court’s backlog of child support cases

Updated: Mar. 1, 2021 at 4:06 PM EST
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CHARLOTTE, N.C. (WBTV) - Jasmyne McEntire and her 11-year-old son, TJ, spent time one recent afternoon playing Uno on the living room floor of their two-bedroom apartment.

The space is smaller than the townhouse they used to live in.

But the mother and son had to downsize after TJ’s father stopped paying child support in early 2020. As a result, a bulk of the money McEntire relied on for rent dried up and they were evicted.

Now, the apartment they live in is subsidized.

It’s a daily reminder for McEntire of the cost she’s had to pay for her inability to enforce the child support order entered by a judge that required TJ’s father to pay $550 each month.

In total, McEntire is owed more than $7,000. But she can’t go to court for help recovering the past-due money because Mecklenburg County has a backlog of child support cases waiting to be heard by a judge.

A WBTV investigation has found 272 cases like McEntire’s, where one parent is waiting to take the other parents to court to resolve child support issues.

The backlog started after court was shut down in March, at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. Child support hearings didn’t resume until August and even then, court calendars show, only a handful of hearings have been held each day.

Chris Stroble is another mother raising a 12-year-old son on her own.

When she had to stop work last year and go on long-term disability, she applied for a case review with Mecklenburg County Child Support Enforcement.

The review found her child support should double, from $680 a month to $1,286. But her son’s father objected and it’s now up to a judge to decide.

A letter sent from Mecklenburg County Child Support Enforcement in August told Stroble her case couldn’t be reviewed by a judge because court scheduling was currently suspended due to COVID-19.

She’s been waiting ever since.

“Initially I was told there would be a hearing in November. Well that was pushed back and then it was January,” Stroble said. “Now it’s February and I spoke with the caseworker recently and he said that all court hearings for February have been cancelled. And nothing else has been scheduled and I’ve been waiting six months for a court hearing.”

As a result, Stroble had to take her son—who has specialized learning needs—out of the private school where he was enrolled for children with learning differences.

“It’s making it very stressful. I mean I have to sacrifice, which any parent was sacrificed for their child, but I’m having to really sacrifice in order to provide for my son’s needs and his father should be also paying that to help take care of him,” Stroble said.

Court calendars provided by the Mecklenburg County Trial Court Administrator’s office and information from Mecklenburg County Child Support Enforcement show hearings have been held since August but not at a rate that would quickly clear the backlog of cases.

The court dictates the dates and times and number of slots to hear cases. The child support enforcement office then schedules specific cases into those slots.

Data provided by the county shows 1,460 case slots have been made available by the court since August, all but about 200 of those through virtual hearings. That amounts to just a handful of cases each day that court is in session.

“Child Support Services is filling the slots provided by the courts,” Fonda Clifton, Assistant Director of Mecklenburg County Child Support Services, wrote in a statement for this story.

“We estimate it will take 4 to 6 months to address the backlog of cases based on the current restrictions at the Mecklenburg County courthouse.”

Jessica Davis, a court spokeswoman, refused a request from WBTV to make someone available to answer questions on camera for this story.

But, in a written statement, Davis sought to cast most of the blame for the backlog of child support enforcement cases on the county child support office.

“Mecklenburg County’s Child Support Enforcement agency sets the dockets for child support court. It is the county’s child support agency that decides how to prioritize and schedule the cases in our designated child support courtroom,” Davis said.

Davis’ statement did not address the fact that the court schedules the hearings or determines how many cases will be heard at a time.

At one point, Davis claimed the court was not responsible for keeping court calendars and refused to produce copies of court calendars until pressed by a WBTV reporter.

The delays and finger pointing add up to frustration for parents like Jasmyne McEntire.

Her son is on the autism spectrum. He cannot attend the therapy he needs because she cannot afford it without child support payments from her son’s father.

“Do you think anyone is thinking about the well-being of your son?” a WBTV reporter asked.

“They can’t be. Because if you look at the account—like I said, it is over $7,600 in arrears—we haven’t had a court date,” McEntire said.

“Who is out there to help those custodial parents that do have their children’s best interests at heart that do the responsible thing with the child support money that they get, which is taking care of the well-being of their children?” McEntire asked.

“Who’s here to help us?”

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