Department of Child Support Services (DCSS) in Los Angeles County moved from Central Civil West to Stanley Mosk Courthouse so expect a learning curve for all involved. But the same work of establishing and enforcing child support orders, spousal support (in some instances) and arrears collection will remain. Notwithstanding the interest rates being at historically low, the legal interest rate accruing on child support arrearages remain at 10% interest per annum on child support arrears.
The term “arrears” is a legal term that refers to a debt or payment that is overdue. If you have been ordered to pay child support and have not paid or have only partially fulfilled your payment obligation, you will be deemed to have child support arrears.
Consequences Associated with Child Support Arrears
If you have child support arrears you face the possibility of severe legal consequences, including, but not limited to:
- Having your wages intercepted by the government to satisfy the support obligation
- The possibility of a misdemeanor charge if you willfully fail to pay child support
- Revocation of your driver’s license; AND
- An increase in payments as a penalty for not paying support in the past
Government Interception of Funds
The government has created many ways to collect child support payments from you if you have fallen into arrears. Not only can your paycheck be subject to a wage garnishment, meaning up to 50% of your wages are directly intercepted to satisfy the child support order, and may also intercept funds you gain from social security, unemployment, disability, workers compensation and tax refunds.
Contempt and the Possibility of a Misdemeanor Crime Being Filed
Under California Penal Code section 270 you may be charged with a misdemeanor if you willfully fail to provide necessary care for your child. In addition, if you owe child support but found to have the ability to pay by the court, you may be held in contempt of court, and as a result may be fined or even sentenced to jail time.
Significant Interest Balance Due as a Result of Arrears
According to California Code of Civil Procedure section 685.010 if you have child support arrears you are required to not only regularly pay the amount of money you owe in support, but you also are required to pay 10% interest per annum on child support arrears.
I recently had a client whose passport was not renewed due to a high balance owed to the mother for back due child support and to the government. If you owe money directly to the custodial parent, (i.e. non-welfare monies), the arrears cannot be reduced by the local child support agency unless the custodial parent participates and consents to the settlement.
The government is provided under the law, broad enforcement powers to enforce and collect court ordered child support. Due to this, my client could not go abroad for work and needed to zero out his arrears before the Department of Homeland Security would not renew his passport. I worked with all the parties involved: the custodial parent, the child support attorney, and my client to reach a payment agreed to by both the mother and DCSS.
My client came in and needed to have the problem solved immediately. Getting a case in a court’s calendar in a short amount of time is nearly impossible. An ex parte proceeding was the avenue I pursued. An ex parte hearing only requires one day of notice to the opposing party and DCSS. But prior to setting the hearing, I had several communications with the child support attorney in charge of my client’s case along with the mother, so the terms of the payment could be finalized.
A Stipulation and Order (“agreement”) was signed and a court hearing to have the judge inquire whether the mother was entering into the agreement without coercion and was advised that once she waives the monies owed, she can no longer revisit the issue. The judge signed the order, and my client paid the mother nearly 60% less of the debt owed. The government was also paid off and my client’s record is cleared.
It is crucial that the attorney you hire to negotiate on your behalf is trusted by the custodial parent and do not employ any coercive or intrusive tactics. It must be clear that the goal is not to “nickel and dime” the custodial parent but that an agreement is reached with the child’s interest as the primary goal.
Notwithstanding the court or the child support agency’s broad powers to ensure collection of the arrears, only a custodial parent (non-welfare) has the power to waive arrears. The court is also without power to waive the interest that has accrued. Keep in mind that if the arrears have been assigned, defined as “welfare reimbursement” support arrears cannot be legally waived. In certain cases, the Compromise of Arrears Program (COAP), allows a parent to pay less than his or her total child support debt owed to the government. DCSS determines if you are eligible, and the eligibility requirements are very specific.
There is also a special compromise opportunity for certain military personnel. Current reservists or National Guard that have been activated to military service and deployed may receive a total compromise of any governmental arrears. This is because their current child support was not changed to reflect that their pay in the military is less than their pay in the civil workforce.
The primary objective by both parents and the government in the collection of child support is to determine and set forth what is for the best interest of the child. As such, having an attorney that does not lose sight of this goal ensures that the negotiations amongst all parties are fair and effective.
If you are interested in resolving your support debt, call my office immediately since the interest accruing are significant and it is not unique that the interests accrued is higher than the principal. You can reach me at [email protected] or call my office at 310-601-7144.
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