Trying to collect child support arrears can be a challenging process. From working with state agencies, to going to court to enforce an order, it can take anywhere from a year or longer to obtain payment for child support arrears. Read on to learn more about how to collect child support arrears in California and how A People’s Choice can help you.

What Are Child Support Arrears?

Arrears in child support refer to past due child support owed to a custodial parent. Interest on past due support accrues at 10% annually. Interest accrues on the principal amount of child support that is unpaid. Additional penalties may be imposed on the payee if payments are outstanding for 30 days or more. Sometimes if a custodial parent is receiving public assistance, the government will assign the child support arrears to the State for repayment of public assistant benefits received by the parent. This is explained further below.

Assigned Arrears – Child Support Assigned To State

Sometimes a custodial parent with a child support order is receiving public assistance or is getting help from CalWORKS, a welfare program that aids eligible needy California families. In this situation, Federal law allows the state of California to seek reimbursement from monies the custodial parent is entitled to receive for child support payments. In this situation, payments, interest and any back support are assigned to the state. The state is able to collect payments for child support from the parent obligated to pay support until the assistance received by the custodial parent has been paid back.

Child Support Enforcement Help

In California, the Department of Child Support Services (DCSS) is the state agency responsible for child support enforcement. Each county in California has a local DCSS office that can help parents 1) establish parentage and child support orders and 2) collect the support owed. The California Department of Child Support Services (DCSS) will send the payee parent several notices to become current with his/her child support arrears. The DCSS has several ways to collect child support  including:

  • Withholding wages from paychecks
  • Bank levies (attaching bank accounts)
  • Interception of State or federal income tax refunds
  • Garnishing unemployment benefits
  • Attaching workers’ compensation benefits
  • Assignment of State disability benefits
  • Collecting against lottery winnings
  • License suspensions
  • Levies on property
  • Passport denial

If the payee parent refuses to comply with paying the arrears, DCSS may even request quasi-criminal contempt charges against the payee parent. Once the state becomes involved, the agency will be responsible for retrieving the payments and sending them to the custodial parent.

A downside of using DCSS to collect child support arrears is that using DCSS may delay how long it takes to start collecting child support payments.  For example, a parent with a child support order can immediately establish a wage garnishment if they know where the other parent is working. All child support payroll assignment monies are processed from the employer through the DCSS. The court documents required to initiate a wage assignment to collect child support arrears do not have to be prepared by the Department of Child Support Service. A payroll assignment is started by preparing and filing the necessary wage assignment documents with the court. Using the DCSS to get the ball rolling usually takes substantially longer because they have thousands of cases they are working on. Often it is 4 to 6 months before they are able to submit the request for wage garnishment to the court. Another example would be for a parent who needs to establish paternity and a support order.  This process could easily take 6-8 months to get started using the DCSS. Alternatively, the custodial parent could file the necessary paperwork themselves with the court and get the process started right away. For this reason, in many instances it can be much faster to use a registered legal document assistant such as A People’s Choice to help you prepare the necessary documentation when trying to collect child support arrears  or establish a new child support order so you can start receiving child support in the quickest time possible.

How to Get Child Support Arrears Paid

Collecting unpaid child support can be challenging. If the non-paying parent works, you may be able to get a wage assignment to collect unpaid, owed child support. In addition, if the non-paying parent is receiving unemployment payments, you can request a portion of their unemployment benefits to be withheld to pay an outstanding support order. The custodial parent may request for a lien to be placed against the non-paying parent’s real property or request the court to impose imprisonment as a result of outstanding support.

DCSS also offers a Compromise of Arrears Programs (COAP) to parents unable to pay outstanding child support balances. If the State supported the family (public assistance ) when the dependent children were to receive child support, the obligated parent may be eligible for the COAP. If eligible, the obligated parent can offer a compromise repayment to the state. The reduction on arrears and interest owed will be based on the obligated parent’s income and assets.

Using a QDRO to Collect Child Support Arrears

A Qualified Domestic Relations Order (QDRO) can be used to collect child support arrears. This allows the custodial parent to tap into existing retirement benefit accounts of the non-paying parent. The custodial parent will have to prove in court that child support is owed and then have a QDRO prepared to enforce payment of the past due support through the 401K or other retirement account. The judge must sign the QDRO in order for it to be effective. Research will also have to be conducted to determine how much money is in the retirement account. Requesting a QDRO may be futile if the retirement account is not adequately funded.

Contact A People’s Choice for more information about how we can help you collect child support arrears.

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