The Arizona State Bar Family Law Section recently honored Child Support Attorney, Janet Sell, with the Lifetime Achievement Award for her dedication to Arizona families receiving child support services. Family, friends and colleagues gathered at the historic Old Courthouse in downtown Phoenix to celebrate as Judge Bruce Cohen commemorated Janet’s legacy. “Anyone who has worked in the child support arena knows Janet Sell. Her contributions to the State and the legal community are immeasurable,” said Judge Cohen.
Janet began as a trial attorney for the Arizona Attorney General’s Office in 1996 and served exclusively in the Child Support Section until her retirement in December 2021. When Janet first joined the office, she thought she may eventually explore interests in other areas of law, but child support held her interest. “In 25 years, I was never bored! People, including me, completely underestimate the complexity of IV-D cases,” she said. Title IV-D of the Social Security Act established federal, state, local and tribal child support programs, including the DES Division of Child Support Services (DCSS). “Despite her well-deserved retirement earlier this year, the legacy she leaves behind will live on for years to come,” said Judge Cohen.
Janet has greatly influenced family law legislation as it relates to child support over the last 25 years. The Arizona Supreme Court issued a mandate to develop procedural rules specific to family court cases in 2007. As a result, Janet helped to develop the first three versions of the Arizona Rules of Family Law Procedure. The child support community considered the new rules to be more appropriate for child support proceedings than the previously used Arizona Rules for Civil Procedure. That year, she was named Attorney of the Year from the Child and Family Protection Division of the Attorney General's Office.
Janet then became the Unit Chief of the Legal Counsel and Complex Litigation Unit of Child Support within the Attorney General’s office in 2011. She provided advice and training to DCSS regarding specialty programs related to legislation, policy, clearinghouse, property liens, bank levies and bankruptcy. “Janet is a humble servant. She doesn't need to be the star, but she makes everyone shine. She isn’t shy about telling us when we’re headed in the wrong direction,” said DCSS Program Administrator Jonell Sullivan.
Though Janet was an attorney with the Attorney General’s office, she worked closely with DCSS and always considered herself an intermediary of both teams. Jonell Sullivan stated, “Janet would sit down to coach DCSS case managers on the correct way to produce a pleading to be filed with the court. Many attorneys would simply return the documents to DCSS with no guidance.”
Janet said, “It was easy for me to go out of my way for [DCSS colleagues and friends] because they were so appreciative of everything that I did.”
Janet was compelled to advocate for the child support program. “Early in my career it became evident that there was a huge amount of misunderstanding in the legal community. People didn’t really know what the IV-D program was. They didn’t understand what services were provided and that they are available to anyone who applied,” explained Janet. She was passionate about educating child support professionals and family law attorneys in Arizona and around the country through writing, training and speaking at professional conferences.
Through her law and litigation lens, Janet supported DCSS with many programs it continues to use daily. Throughout her career, Janet was involved in five revisions of the Arizona Child Support Guidelines, including the most recent version published in 2022. She was also involved in building the calculator for past due child support payments. “When Janet completed the child support guidelines and calculator project, without hesitation, she committed to train all the DCSS case managers on the new calculator,” said DCSS Program Administrator Rosa Torez. In addition, she built all of the legal pleadings into the document generation system that DCSS uses to manage cases. Janet developed the first Court Orders Training Curriculum and provided it to every office statewide. The curriculum is now mandatory for all DCSS employees.
Although Janet is officially retired, DCSS boasts her post-retirement involvement as she is contracted to support development of the new, highly-anticipated child support case management system. “We are grateful for her dedication, loyalty, and unwavering commitment in supporting our System Modernization effort. Her commitment to the program and our success is remarkable," said DCSS Assistant Director Heather Noble. “It was a good career and great relationship,” said Janet. In her merited retirement, Janet looks forward to traveling and spending quality time with her family and grandchildren.