After four decades working for Luzerne County, Domestic Relations Director James Davis is retiring.
Usually the first to arrive and last to leave in his department, Davis is “by far” one of the county’s most efficient and dedicated managers, said county Court Administrator Michael Shucosky.
“It’s very sad to see him go,” Shucosky said.
The office handles child and spousal support payments and the establishment of paternity for children born out of wedlock.
When Davis started work as a probation officer handling support cases in July 1978, there wasn’t a separate domestic relations department or lengthy guidelines and rules of civil procedure that govern support payments today.
“It was kind of by the seat of your pants,” Davis said from his office in the Bernard C. Brominski Building by the county courthouse in Wilkes-Barre, where the walls are filled with numerous training certificates and some commendations.
In September 1981, the year after a standalone domestic relations department was established, Davis became office project manager. Three months later he was promoted to director, the youngest to hold that position in the state at the time.
Davis estimated the office handled around 4,000 active cases early in his career, compared to nearly 9,000 today. Between $35 million and $40 million in support payments are collected in the county annually.
When he started, there were no women paying support. Approximately 20 percent now pay support for children who are in the custody of fathers, grandparents or Children and Youth, he said.
“It’s not strictly dads paying support anymore. Sometimes, regrettably, it’s both mom and dad paying support because the children are not with either of them,” Davis said.
The office has a $5.3 million budget — most funded by the state and federal governments — and 59 positions, although some are now vacant, he said.
At its staffing height, the department employed 72, he said. Technology has reduced the number of clerical staff over the years, he said.
Working in domestic relations can be thankless, with most clients convinced they are paying too much or receiving too little.
Davis said he has viewed his work as worthwhile because children are often the beneficiaries.
“Making sure they receive a fair amount of support that they’re entitled to and that they get it on a regular basis is the most rewarding thing because you’re helping to feed and clothe those kids,” he said.
He has worked for eight different president judges, oversaw the opening of a Hazleton office in 1982 and first computerization project in 1983 and helped plan and secure funding for the Brominski building, which opened in 1988.
A Butler Township resident and Wilkes University graduate, Davis started contemplating his departure when his wife, Loretta, retired last year. He will turn 66 in October and is planning more traveling, although he told court officials he will continue to share his institutional knowledge in a pinch.
He thanked his staff and court administration for their support over the decades.
“This has been my life for a long time,” he said.
Reach Jennifer Learn-Andes at 570-991-6388 or on Twitter @TLJenLearnAndes.