Child Support Survival Guide: Introduction

How Child Support Enforcement (CSE) agencies help parents with problems.

Do you have problems getting the child support payments that are due

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your children? You are not alone; more than 40 million parents in this country struggle with problems relating to child support.

Perhaps you are a divorced mother of two children, your husband has left town, has fallen behind in his child support payments, and has dropped the medical insurance coverage for your children. You have repeatedly taken him to court over these matters. In the process, you have paid attorney fees and court costs, and you have missed work and lost income. All to no avail.

Or you might be a divorced father who has fallen behind on child support payments. You are now suffering the legal consequences of divorce that have left you in financial ruin. Or you might just have been served with a summons and complaint that names you as the father of a child, and you doubt whether you are really that child's parent.

If you are involved in a child support legal action, problems crop up that can confuse you and complicate your life and your children's lives. When you are faced with a problem in you child support case, do you know what to do about that problem?

Child support is a highly charged emotional issue for everyone involved and child support disputes can have long-term financial consequences that can be disastrous if they aren't handled properly. Fighting courtroom battles over child support can also be as much of an emotional drain as it can be a financial drain. Bank accounts dwindle when child support confrontations increase, and in the end, the children are the real losers. Children do not understand why their parents don't speak to each other anymore or why they can't have a new bicycle or new school clothes. Children are usually aware that when their parents do speak to each other, tempers flair, feelings are hurt, and life styles are forever changed for everyone in the family.

Child support laws are complex. Enforcement of these laws can be so time-consuming and expensive that most people are unable to handle child support disputes on their own. When faced with a severe shortage of available information about a child support system that creates so much confusion, many people do not learn about the resources that are available to assist them in child support-related problems. For many people, hiring an attorney to represent them or a private investigator to assist them are options that are out of their financial reach. Some low-cost consumer groups and legal aid clinics can assist low-income parents in establishing a child support order. But enforcing a child support order successfully is beyond the reach of the average person.

Child Support Enforcement (CSE) agencies are far and away the most affordable available resource to help parents who are embroiled in child support problems. The services offered by CSE agencies are provided at little or no cost to the parents. CSE agencies-their functions, policies, procedures, and limitations-are the focus of these articles.

Federal and state laws that regulate child support, paternity, and child support enforcement enable the CSE agency to assist parents in resolving their child support matters by acting as an impartial third party. But in order for you to have your child support case managed effectively by a CSE agency, you must know how these agencies operate. You must know your rights in the child support process, and you must know how to assist the CSE agency in resolving your child support problems. The best way to get results through CSE agencies is for you to become aware of the laws governing child support, to become knowledgeable about the procedures used by CSE agencies, to know what CSE agencies can and cannot do for and to you, and to know your rights in this system. By becoming educated about the child support enforcement process, you can greatly improve the chances that you will achieve your desired result: providing for your children while keeping your financial livelihood intact.

These articles are the first comprehensive guide on Child Support Enforcement (CSE) agencies written for custodial and noncustodial parents. It provides the information both parties need to maneuver their ways through a complicated system. For years people have been uninformed when dealing with CSE agencies. The crux of the matter is that most custodial parents and noncustodial parents do not know how this system works, how it can affect them, and what rights they have in this system.

The CSE agency performs vital services, including establishing paternity, establishing child support orders, and enforcing child support and spousal support orders. CSE agencies are regulated and funded by the federal government. The CSE agency is legally responsible for ensuring that all children whose cases they handle receive the financial support they need from both parents. CSE agencies can locate missing parents, implement severe enforcement actions on non-payers, monitor and track child support payments, and modify existing court orders. CSE agencies work to remove dependent families from the welfare rolls by collecting regular child support payments for these children.

However, whether you are the custodial parent or the noncustodial parent, dealing with this government agency can be a frustrating experience. If this is how you feel, take heart, because much of your frustration might be needless. It may be caused only by your lack of knowledge on how the CSE system works. Knowledge is power and these articles arm you with the knowledge you'll need to work effectively in the system.

Stumbling through the CSE system is a journey no one wants to take. It is an odyssey that begins with the end of a relationship that may have lasted many years or just one night. But if you have decided to read these articles, the outcome of this relationship for you has been the same regardless of the history of the relationship: You have a child or children who need to be supported. Partners who were once in love with each other and who were prepared to spend the rest of their lives together now find themselves dealing with the emotional issues that come from a broken relationship. As reality sets in, they realize their financial livelihoods are now in danger. In a perfect world, both parents would be happy with the arrangements for supporting their children even after their relationship is over. But then, in a perfect world parents would not separate. The CSE system was established to help rectify some of the damage caused by these breakups.

The words child support can ignite anger and hostility in even the most amicable of relationships. Often, both parents are angry with each other when their relationship ends. While some former partners are amicable at the onset of the breakup of their relationship, their mutual love for their children is often overridden by monetary disputes. Either you are the parent who needs support for your children, or you are the parent responsible for paying it. No matter how you slice it, child support issues are likely to become a central part of your post-separation relationship.

What is a paternity issue? How do I go about getting a child support order when I can't afford an attorney? How do you make the other parent pay? How long will this process take? What gives you the right to attach my wages? Do I need an attorney? Isn't there some way to get action on my case? How do I reach someone through your telephone system? How does a parent get answers to these questions? How does a parent get action on his or her case? In these articles, we answer these frequently asked questions, guide you through the child support enforcement system, and explain the rights and responsibilities you will have in the system.

You may be surprised to find that you do not need an attorney to represent you on child support issues. Attorneys charge you to answer your questions. Some encourage the noncustodial parent to fight the CSE agency in court; the attorney is then retained for a fee. The end result is often that the noncustodial parent ends up paying the same amount of child support that the CSE office advised should have been paid long before the courtroom battle took place. In those situations, not only does the noncustodial parent pay child support, but that parent must also pay the additional cost of attorneys' fees.

Some custodial parents pay thousands of dollars on their own to obtain a support order, then find they are unable to locate the noncustodial parent, or they are unable to enforce the order. By the time these parents turn to a CSE agency for help, they are often owed thousands of dollars in back child support.

The federal government has mandated that all states become fully automated in child support functions or risk a reduction in the federal funding for child support enforcement. Most states are presently developing their automated systems. As an example, California's statewide computer system is still in its early implementation stages. The plan is for every county's CSE agency to be linked to this automated system. The system will simplify and automate many tasks, but the system has taken years to develop and may not become fully operational for several more years. Many states are already online with their own automated child support enforcement programs. Eventually, all states' computer systems will be linked to each other.

The information contained in these articles applies generally throughout the United States. Because we are most familiar with California's child support system, and because California maintains the largest child support caseload in the United States, California's laws and procedures are highlighted in this book. However, all states operate their CSE programs under federal CSE guidelines and regulations. Most of the procedures we describe in this book are used by CSE agencies throughout the United States. Consult your local CSE agency to confirm or clarify any subjects we discuss.

If you, a friend, or a relative have questions relating to child support, or if you have a case that is being handled by a Child Support Enforcement agency, this will be a valuable tool for you. An attorney might be needed to handle complex legal issues and issues of child custody, child visitation, and property settlements, since CSE agencies do not usually become involved in these subjects.

We have worked in this system. Bonnie White is now a Child Support Enforcement officer who has worked the District Attorney's Office-Family Support Division in Contra Costa County, California, for six years. Douglas Pipes was the former supervising deputy in charge of the same CSE agency for more than five years.

Bonnie White deals directly with both custodial and noncustodial parents on a daily basis. In this capacity, she has become increasingly concerned over parents' lack of knowledge on child support enforcement issues. She came to realize that many parents make serious mistakes that adversely affect their child support cases, often causing major problems that could have been avoided had the parents known what to do.

As the Deputy District Attorney in charge of the Family Support Division of the Office of the District Attorney of Contra Costa County, California, Douglas Pipes administered a complex bureaucratic agency, responded to parents' complaints and problem cases, worked to keep the CSE agency in compliance with highly regulated government mandates, and wrote and advocated for new laws to simplify and improve an antiquated child support collection system. The authors have joined forces to produce these articles in the hope of helping parents make the best possible use of the CSE system.

However complicated or simple your case may be, these pages will lead you step by step through the CSE process, enabling you to understand how your case should be handled and what rights you have. This journey through the entire CSE system is a journey you cannot afford to miss.

Excerpted from Child Support Survival Guide: How to Get Results Through Child Support Enforcement Agencies.Copyright 1997 by Bonnie M. White and L. Douglas Pipes. Published by arrangement with Career Press.
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