The Orange County Department of Child Support Services…just the name can cause parents ordered to pay child support to cringe.
While most California child support agencies will tell you that their goal is to provide professional and cost-effective ways to establish and enforce child support orders, the reality is that many factors, including some outside of their own control, can sometimes interfere with such a goal.
In this article, we will share with you our general perspective on the potential advantages and disadvantages of getting a county child support agency involved in a child or family support matter. We will look at this issue from both the obligor parent's perspective (that's the one ordered to pay support) as well as that of the obligee (the one who will receive support).
Nothing contained herein is intended to apply to a specific case or a specific set of facts. The general information provided herein is not a substitute for legal advice for your specific California child support case.
Potential Advantages of using Orange County Child Support Services
1. Cost: The first potential advantage of using the child support agency is the fees you won't have to pay. Private lawyers cost money, whether they handle your child support case on a flat fee, hourly or sometimes even a contingency basis. A county child support agency however does not charge you attorney fees for the time they put into the case. That is because the agency does not represent you. They represent the county and they work on behalf of the government.
That doesn't however mean the obligee parent gets to keep all of the child support. The agency may, among other things, seek reimbursement for certain public assistance paid on behalf of the supported child. The statutory provisions can get complicated and the assistance of a private family law attorney may be necessary to understand these reimbursement rights.
2. License suspension: The second advantage, solely from the perspective of the obligee, of using a child support agency is their ability to take away an obligor parent's state license, in the event of non-payment.
This isn't just a driving privilege about which we write. Pursuant to California Family Code 17520 and related code sections, obligors that owe child support or family support and who are in a business, occupation or profession that requires a license, credential, permit or registration could face non-issuance and/or non-renewal if the obligor falls more than 30 days behind in arrears.
If the obligor falls behind more than 30 days, his or her driving privilege may also fall at risk. The entire statutory scheme can get complicated and the advice of an experienced attorney regarding your specific facts is important.
Whether you are the obligee or obligor parent, you have to ask yourself whether this is really an advantage? Consider a child support obligor who is a few months behind on support and has fallen on some hard times. Does the parent who is supposed to receive support really want to take away a driver's license or state issued professional license and potentially keep the obligor parent from working or otherwise interfering with that work?
We acknowledge this can be argued both ways and some will state the threat of the license suspension will scare the parent into payment. Perhaps. Or perhaps it may make a bad situation worse.
Potential Disadvantages of Using the Department of Child Support Services
1. Delays: Despite the best of intentions, using a child support agency in California for collection of support may result in delays to the case. Child support agencies are sometimes overwhelmed with the number of files they are required and requested to handle. In such instances, there simply may not be enough attorneys and staff to manage the case load nor enough judges to hear all the cases in a swift manner.
This may result in a backlog of cases where child or family support matters, especially those that involve a significant sum of money and are more complicated in nature, are continued for many months.
2. Lack of sufficient discovery: "Discovery" is the term used in California for the formal request of information. Discovery is designed to ensure the relevant facts are known. In a child support case, that primarily includes each parent's income for California child support purposes and timeshare with the children.
If there is a backlog of cases and a lack of sufficient resources, this may interfere with the agency's ability to do all of the discovery it could in a child support case. Especially in cases where child support has not yet been established and the agency seeks to establish an initial child support order, the inability conduct the necessary discovery and a failure to follow through to make sure the discovery requests have been complied with, may result in incomplete information. Incomplete information may then result in the subject of our third potential disadvantage of using a child support agency.
3. Incorrect rulings: In situations where there is excessive casework and the lack of resources, some rulings that come out of court cases handled by an agency may be inconsistent with the facts or law.
While one would hope that parents would always provide the information they are required by law, they don't always do so. In such situations, especially when dealing with self-employed parents, the failure to conduct discovery and follow through may result in incorrect income and incorrect visitation time-share information being inputted into the computer program to determine the California guideline child support amount.
Obligor and Obligee Parents' Perspectives
From the perspective of the obligee parent, the fact he or she does not pay for a private attorney may be the distinct advantage to using a child support agency. That however has to be balanced with the potential delays, possible lack of discovery or follow through on discovery and the potential for an incorrect ruling.
From the perspective of the obligor parent, being stuck in a case involving a local child support agency can feel like sheer hell. Some obligee parents use the child support agency as a tool to drag the obligor into court over and over again. Though the agency attorneys and staff do try to weed out frivolous cases, that is not always an easy task at the outset.
Sometimes, it can feel like there is no escape from this unless the obligor parent is willing to retain and pay a private attorney to represent his or her interests before the child support agency and the court.
Do you have a child support case with which you need help? Are you owed child support? Contact our family law lawyers for an affordable strategy session.