The Child Welfare Research and Training Project (CWRTP) employs two legal consultants, Jalynn Almond and Matthew Femrite. Both work out of Des Moines and perform valuable tasks benefitting attorneys who represent the Child Support Recovery Unit (CSRU).
“Our work provides a valuable reference to the attorneys representing CSRU and to CSRU regarding various legal issues affecting CSRU and the services it provides,” stated Femrite.
Legal consultants undertake the maintenance of a guidebook used by the attorneys who represent the CSRU. It contains roughly 60 chapters, ranging from nine to over 125 pages, which relate to child support enforcement and is a great reference for child support attorneys. Almond and Femrite constantly update the guidebook as laws change and adjustments are needed. The guide mostly pertains to Iowa law, but Almond says, “…the nature of child support enforcement actions, and certain chapter themes particularly, dictate that we also focus our review and writing on federal law as well.”
The legal consultants also summarize opinions filed by the Iowa Supreme Court and the Iowa Court of Appeals. This helps the CSRU understand how the opinions affect their enforcement efforts. When performing these duties, Almond and Femrite work directly with Assistant Attorneys General (AAGs) Wayne Bergman and Gary Otting, who appreciate their assistance.
“Matt and Jalynn are able to provide valuable legal research on complex legal issues that typically do not have a clear answer. Their research saves time for the central office attorneys and allows them to give advice or make recommendations to assist CSRU on both broader policy issues as well as unusual case-specific situations. In addition, Matt and Jalynn do a great job of making improvements to and updating the attorney guidebook, which is critical to ensuring that the attorney guidebook remains a valuable resource for CSRU attorneys. Their work on the attorney guidebook helps to create fast references to the determination of legal issues for the field attorneys,” said Bergman and Otting.
The legal consultants may also review laws as they pertain to ongoing child support cases to determine whether they apply to that particular case. When requested by one of the AAGs, Almond and Femrite review the case and the particular point of law in question and draft a memo summarizing how they think the law applies, or does not apply, to the case. The AAGs may or may not always agree with their assessment, but use it to form an opinion on how the field attorney should proceed. Put simply, the legal consultants are an extra set of eyes helping to guide attorneys as they manage unique and challenging cases in the child support arena.
There are other less overt benefits to having legal consultants on the contract. Occasionally, their work overlaps with other areas of the contract.
“In my nearly two years in this position, I have also learned that as legal consultants…we also have or can make opportunities to collaborate with other CWRTP team members. This can be something as simple as sharing a completed Attorney Guidebook chapter with the CWRTP team member that works on that particular issue in their role as a trainer, or by providing feedback relative to legal issues and resources on a proposed training,” said Almond.
In one case, Almond was researching Iowa’s Voluntary Paternity Affidavit (VPA). She learned the CWRTP’s VPA program coordinator had been discovering obstacles some customers had in filling out the form. The two of them used the opportunity for collaboration to suggest changes to the form and many of their proposed revisions were implemented by the State of Iowa in the new version.
Reflecting on this project, Almond elaborated, “Would the VPA form been revised without the CWRTP team-member collaboration? Hard to say. Something would have happened relative to VPAs because it was, and remains, a serious issue for CSRU, but maybe it would have taken longer. That said, I do know that my dialogues with [the program coordinator] gave me the insight needed so that I could structure my research and memos to address the concerns that she had raised as barriers to getting VPAs accepted.”
CWRTP benefits greatly from having Almond and Femrite on staff, but they find personal value in their work as well. Femrite said, “My work as a Legal Consult with CWRTP is meaningful and important to me because it makes a difference in the lives of children.” He enjoys his work knowing his efforts are toward a great cause. Summing up his job, Femrite concluded, “Put simply, this position is about helping ensure children have the financial and medical support they need.”
Reflecting on her own experience, Almond stated, “When I litigated custody and child support cases as private attorney, I did not enjoy the experience. Conversely, working as a legal consultant, I get to work in support of a policy that I applaud, while not having to participate directly in the often acrimonious litigation process.” Fortunately, she found a way to stay involved and improve the lives of children.
To learn more about our legal consultants, Jalynn Almond and Matthew Femrite, read their bios here: CSRU Staff