The Third Branch
Barron County opens night court for child support matters
By Judge James C. Babler, Barron County Circuit Court
Judge James C. Babler
June 28 marked a milestone in Barron County and for the state of Wisconsin: the first night court session for child support hearings. The county is believed to be the first in the state to offer night court for child support matters. In its first two sessions, the court heard 22 cases – just slightly fewer than are handled in a regular daytime session.
Here’s how we do it:
- Court is held one evening per month, with the judges rotating through.
- Court is held the same evening as the weekly child support hearings to simplify scheduling.
- When night court is requested, cases are set for the next night date regardless of which judge is assigned to the case so that cases are not delayed.
- The child-support agency included notices in its mailings several months before implementation announcing that night child support court was available.
- When hearing child-support collections cases, the judges routinely tell litigants that night hearings are available.
- Night child support hearings are limited to post judgment matters including contempt and motions to modify support.
The Barron County Justice Center, where judges began holding nighttime child support hearings in June.
Clerk of Court Sharon Millermon and I began working to establish the court after learning of a similar program in California while attending a conference entitled Improving Rural Courts. The California program was conducting hearings in about one third of its child support cases at night. We brought the idea back to Barron County where the other two judges, Timothy M. Doyle and James D. Babbitt enthusiastically endorsed it.
Night child support court is designed to allow custodial and non-custodial parents to have their day in court and not lose income or use up vacation time. In the past, the judges have often been asked if the court hearings might be held at a different time. However, without night court, such an option was not possible. Where the main objective is to collect child support, it made little sense to have people lose work and income to attend court.
To start a night court
Night court is not possible without careful planning and cooperation. The new Barron County program took six months to establish. The first key step is to involve the right partners. They include:
Once the planners have enlisted the cooperation of justice partners, several additional steps must be followed to ensure that the night session comes off without a hitch:
Questions about establishing a night child-support court may be addressed to Judge James C. Babler, Barron County Circuit Court, (715) 537-6262.