Op-Ed | We can and should support more children, faster

Six pre-teen friends piggybacking in a park, close up portrait
Photo via Getty Images

No parent should have to wait for more than seven months before receiving the money they need to support their kids. But that is exactly what is happening in the New York Family Courts right now.

In New York, parents must request child support orders through the courts. Families living in poverty rely on our court system to access basic needs, key among them financial support for their children. Unfortunately, the state’s court system is still struggling to rebuild post-COVID, when restrictions required the Family Courts to shut down and the reality of scarce resources (including staff) and outmoded technology and other systems came to light. Those challenges resulted in enormous case backlogs.

Child support cases typically represent more than one-third of all family law petitions filed in the State, so naturally these cases also represent a high percentage of the courts’ backlog. And the Family Courts are one-size-fits-all, so even families with straightforward cases can wait for months, if not years, to get a child support order.

The result is that some parents are waiting seven months to see a judge for the first time after petitioning for support. That’s seven months when they are single-handedly raising a child, with no financial help coming from the child’s other parent.

There is a clear solution. We have proposed legislation that provides a way out of this crisis by recognizing that some parents agree on how to support their children together, and simply need the court to confirm their agreement. Under our proposal, these families could choose an expedited option that includes notice and information about their rights and the conference process. It would ensure a fairer process for those that do not need to engage in lengthy litigation to resolve disputes and – most importantly – get support to children more quickly.

The proposal would relieve court burden, helping to move those cases more quickly, and allowing precious existing Family Court resources to be used for more complicated cases. The bill would also bring additional resources to the Family Courts, including staff to facilitate the expedited conferences. In 2021, Massachusetts implemented a similar approach to address post-COVID court backlogs, resolving more than 9,000 child support cases in one year through the new program.

We believe all families deserve access to justice. New York owes it to them to provide different paths for families with different needs, so that all families can engage in a fair court system that serves them best. Children and families remain a priority for the New York State Legislature, and we ask that all our colleagues support this proposal so that we can support children.

Senator Roxanne J. Persaud, Chair, NYS Senate Social Services Committee, is a member of the New York State Senate, representing Brooklyn, and Karines Reyes is a member of the New York State Assembly, representing the Bronx.