Procedural Justice Principles in the Midst of a Major Disruption

What Several Months of COVID-19 Revealed in the Procedural Justice-Informed Alternatives to Contempt (PJAC) Demonstration

By Peter Baird, Michael Hayes, Sharon Henderson, Tanya Johnson

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 was favorable to them.

Child support agencies aim to secure payments from noncustodial parents to support the well-being of their children. The target population for the PJAC demonstration project is 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, yet have been determined to have the ability to pay. The PJAC demonstration project aims to address parents’ reasons for nonpayment, improve the consistency of their payments, and promote their positive engagement with the child support program and the custodial parent.

This brief is the fifth in a series developed primarily for child support practitioners and administrators that shares lessons learned as the six participating child support agencies (the project sites) implement the PJAC model. It describes the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on PJAC project sites and on parents served by the PJAC project during the spring and summer of 2020, and it examines the sites’ initial responses to the pandemic.