State Office of Child Support Enforcem't v. Terry

In State Office of Child Support Enforcem't v. Terry, 336 Ark. 310, 985 S.W.2d 711 (1999) Joey Terry challenged the ethical propriety of CSEU's representation of his ex-wife in proceedings to collect child support from him, where CSEU had previously represented him in the same case in his efforts to collect child support from his ex-wife. The chancellor found that these circumstances resulted in a conflict of interest on CSEU's part, and prohibited CSEU from representing Terry's ex-wife. On appeal, our supreme court held that no conflict of interest existed because, under Ark. Code Ann. 9-14-210 (Repl. 1998), CSEU's attorneys do not represent the assignors whom it is undertaking to assist in receiving child support, but represent only the interests of the State; thus, no attorney-client relationship existed between CSEU and its assignors. In Terry, the supreme court further stated: "The State is the real party in interest when there has been an assignment of support rights to the State, regardless of whether the custodial parent is receiving public assistance on behalf of the child. . . . The collection of child support ultimately benefits the State by providing for the financial needs of its children, without having to resort to public funds to do so. Thus, regardless of the financial status of the custodial parent, once the child support is assigned to the State, it becomes an obligation owed to the State, not the individual parent, by the noncustodial parent. . . We concur with the reasoning of the Oklahoma Supreme Court in Haney, 850 P.2d 1087, that, once the child support rights are assigned to the State, the State has a pecuniary interest in enforcing those rights even though the amounts collected on behalf of those assignors who are not receiving public assistance will ultimately pass from the State to the assignors and their children." (336 Ark. at 320, 985 S.W.2d at 716-17.)