Effective Monday, someone who's behind on child support payments will no longer see his or her driver license suspended until a hearing has determined the person is willfully dodging his or her responsibilities.

The change stems from a New Jersey Superior Court ruling issued on Dec. 7, which said that suspending driver licenses without a hearing to determine the cause was both counterproductive and violated the procedural due process rights of parents.

Judge Mary Jacobson gave the affected agencies until April 7 to make the change. A letter from the state Attorney General, dated March 29, indicated "automatic suspensions of driver licenses when a warrant issues for non-payment of child support" would cease beginning April 1.

David Perry Davis, a family law attorney in Hopewell who brought the suit on behalf of four defendants, said the process before today was making it impossible for certain parents to actually catch up on payments. A suspended license, he said, prevented people from seeking employment or accepting a job that requires a license.

"I am in no way sticking up for deadbeats who are refusing to pay," Davis said. "But people that legitimately — through unemployment or through illness or through a change in custody or for a disability or for some other good reason — have fallen behind on support, this will no longer hamstring them from being able to start paying."

Since the complaint was first filed in May 2015, according to Davis's office, 70,088 defaulted obligors have had their license suspended in New Jersey. More than 99 percent of those licenses were suspended automatically without a hearing.

And at $100 per restoration, people over that time paid $7,843,630 to the state Motor Vehicle Commission.

State law requires a 20-day warning before one's license is suspended. In 1998, a statute passed that allowed for automatic suspensions when someone defaults on child support.

In her 187-page ruling, Jacobson said these automatic suspensions violate "procedural due process" and "fundamental fairness," and that the court finds delinquent child support obligors should be provided with advanced notice "and an opportunity to be heard."

"Upon receiving such notice, obligors may take action to avoid the suspension, or request a hearing to demonstrate an inability to pay support at that time due to personal hardships. Probation must also advice affected obligors of a date certain on which the suspension will occur."

New Jersey has been suspending over 20,000 licenses per year based on child support payments alone, according to the suit. Most states suspend an average of 250 per year.

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Contact reporter Dino Flammia at dino.flammia@townsquaremedia.com.

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