Wright v. Family Support Division

In Missouri, the Family Support Division (FSD) has made the inability to complete childcare payments the first step in a downward spiral of criminal culpability. The FSD has the authority to suspend the driver’s license of any person who owes at least three months’ worth of child support payments or at least $2,500, whichever is less. While designed to coerce support out of non-custodial parents, this punishment, when enforced against parents who are struggling financially, makes it more likely that payments will be missed.

Their practice of total license suspension until the debt is paid makes it less likely that the government will ever receive its intended fees. No punishment can increase the likelihood that a person will pay a debt that they are unable to pay, especially when their means of transportation is revoked. 

The FSD does not provide ability-to-pay hearings for those affected, so many parents whose licenses are suspended face an impossible choice: comply with the suspensions and lose their jobs, homes, and ability to care for their families, or drive illegally and face the threat of further debt and criminal charges if they are caught.

Suspending the driver’s licenses of non-custodial parents makes it more difficult for them to see their children regularly, pick them up for visitation, or share in caring for them by taking them to doctor’s appointments and participating in school activities. These license suspensions harm the interests of the children who are meant to benefit from child support enforcement by making it virtually impossible for non-custodial parents with limited means to play a meaningful role in their children’s lives as well as ensuring that parents are unable to earn the money that they would gladly use to support their children.

We are challenging this practice on the grounds that it violates Equal Protection and Due Process rights and the fundamental right to travel. The law is counterproductive -- attempting to coerce payment by taking away people's ability to drive, thereby impeding their ability to work and earn money -- and therefore fails rational basis review. The law also punishes people simply for being poor, a violation of their substantive due process rights. Automatic suspension also deprives impoverished drivers of a protected property interest, their driver's licenses, without an ability-to-pay hearing, a violation of their procedural due process rights.


case details

The Complaint

Status: Complaint filed

Date Filed: 03/04/19

Plaintiffs: Nathan Wright and Camese Bedford on behalf of themselves and those similarly situated

Family Support Division, MO Department of Social Services
Michael Parson, Governor Of Missouri
Steve Corsi, Director Missouri Department of Social Services
Patrick Luebbering, Director Family Support Division
Joel Walter, Director Department Of Revenue
Jackie Bemboom, Director MO DMV and Driver Licensing Division

Jurisdiction: The U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri, Eastern Division

Partners: Stephanie Lummus of the St. Francis Community Services, Catholic Legal Assistance Ministry