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San Jose Divorce Lawyers Blog

What Can a Child Support Attorney Do?

San Jose child support attorneys are legal professionals who help parents deal with issues relating to child support. The issues that are involved in calculating child support also usually effect many other issues like child custody, child visitation, and  spousal support . A good and experienced attorney can assist both custodial and noncustodial parents, regardless of whether the parents were married at the time the child was born. Services an experienced child support attorney can provide include:

  • Counting Income: A child support attorney can help make sure that your income is being counted properly and that you’re taking all of the deductions, like health insurance and/or union dues, that you are entitled to receive. An attorney can also help make sure that your spouse is not claiming any deductions that he or she is not entitled to receive.
  • Enforcing Child Support: A child support attorney can help you enforce an existing child support order. The state provides some assistance for parents, but progress can be slow because of the backlog of cases.
  • Modifying Child Support: A child support attorney can help you request a modification of your child support order based on a change in circumstances. This might include reduced income due to a job loss, change in work schedule, or illness. A change in circumstances might also include an increase in expenses, such as extra therapy that a child needs for a physical or mental disability.
  • Child Support and Child Custody Concerns: If you are currently paying child support, but have since changed the amount of time your child is physically in your care, an attorney can help you have your child support order changed to reflect this. Child support payments are based on parental income as well as the amount of time the child spends with each parent, so having your child stay with you for additional time should decrease your support payment.
  • Handling Child Support Arrears: If you are behind on your child support payments, an attorney can help you come up with a plan to avoid penalties such as losing your driver’s license, being unable to apply for a passport, or having your income tax refund withheld.

If you need assistance with a San Jose child support issue, keep in mind that the law offices of Thomas Chase Stutzman offers a free 30 minute initial consultation. The face to face consultation provides an opportunity for you to make sure you’ve selected an attorney who matches your needs.

Child Support Debt Has Serious Consequences

For California residents making San Jose child support payments, the recent story of a man who was forced to choose between his responsibility to his child and being able to keep a roof over his head is a tragic reminder of the consequence of allowing Child Support debt to accumulate.

Last week, Memphis Action News 5 ran a story profiling a man who was living out of his car in order to try to catch up on his Child Support payments. The man, who was only identified by the name Billy, owed $14,000 in unpaid Child Support. He told news crews that the Child Support debt left him with no choice but to give up his home. Although Billy was from Tennessee, his situation could occur almost anywhere in the United States.

Some sources even allege that when Private Child Support Collection Agencies get involved, things can get much worse.  Getting entangled with debt collectors can be an expensive and painful experience for everyone involved.  California may limit the maximum fee charged by a private collector to 33 1/3% of the arrears, although if you read part (b) of Family Code 5616 you can see that there can be more stacked on to the debt for collection costs. When the Child Support is more than 30 days delinquent, a 6% per month penalty (maximum 72%) could be added to the debt, after service of the proper Notice. These possible increases to the unpaid Child Support debt are, of course, in addition to the application of statutory interest (about 10% per annum).  This all means that it is very likely that the unpaid Child Support debt will grow larger than the debtor expects.

If your financial situation changes and you are no longer able to make your Child Support payments because of a job loss, illness, or added expenses beyond your control, then you should file a Request for Order with the Court to modify the Child Support Order. The Court can, and often will, set a payback amount on the arrears after hearing from you about your current financial circumstances. In fact, there is a limited piece of good news: if you are in compliance with the Court’s Orders for current Child Support and the arrears payback, then you will be free from many of the collections tactics others might face, like the seizure of bank accounts and/or having their driver’s license taken.  An experienced Divorce Lawyer can help you prepare and file the modification papers.

Getting rid of already accrued Child Support Debt is more difficult, since Child Support collection has no clear statute of limitations and Child Support can’t be discharged in bankruptcy. Nevertheless, the situation is not hopeless. In California, for example, there is a compromise of arrears program (COAP) that may allow some non-custodial parents to reduce the amount of Child Support they owe to the government. If your child was living with you for part of the time when Child Support was accumulating, do not delay in contacting an experienced Child Support Attorney, as there is an Appellate Case that may allow forgiveness of that portion of the debt — but there can be statutes of limitations that may run out as soon as six months.

What Is an EPPICard?

San Jose child support payments can be received in three different ways. Parents can receive payments via a traditional paper check, enroll in the state’s direct deposit program, or receive payments through the use of an electronic payment card issued by the State of California Department of Child Support Services (DCSS). The card used to receive electronic payments is sometimes referred to as an EPPICard.

The EPPICard is a prepaid debit MasterCard that can be used at most major retailers. Parents can also use the card to withdraw cash from an ATM machine or at a bank teller window. The EPPICard has no daily withdrawal or purchase limits. Parents can visit the EPPICard website to learn more about fees associated with the card use or to check their balance information. If a parent is receiving child support from more than one case, all funds are deposited into the same EPPICard account. The Interchange Fees charged to retailers for accepting the EPPICard are unknown to this attorney, but they are expected to be somewhere near the national average of about 2% of every transaction, so if you get $500/mo in Child Support and use an EPPICard the Bank behind the EPPICard will make about $10/mo off of retailers in return for them getting your business.

It should be noted that the State of California does not authorize smartphone applications for use with the EPPICard. These apps have been linked to scams that try to steal your log-in information and password in order to gain access to your child support payments. To protect yourself, only access information through the official EPPICard website.

The EPPICard program makes it easier to access child support funds, but you must have a child support order in place before you can receive the money you need to care for your child. Working closely with an experienced San Jose child support attorney will ensure that you receive the maximum child support payment as part of your divorce settlement. If you already have a child support order in place and the noncustodial parent is not making timely payments, your lawyer can assist you in determining which enforcement options are available to you.

Child support payments generally do not have a statute of limitations, until death. A noncustodial parent is responsible for the debt until it is paid, so it’s never too late to take action regarding the money that you are owed.

Non-custodial Fathers Harmed by Disparity in Enforcement Policies for Child Support and Visitation Orders

San Jose child support and visitation arrangements are both set as the result of a Court Order. Unfortunately, there can be a great discrepancy in how these Court Orders are enforced.

Child support enforcement penalties can be quite severe. A parent who fails to pay child support may have his driver’s license taken away, be unable to apply for a passport, incur heavy fines, have his vehicle repossessed, or have a lien placed on his property. In some cases, failing to pay child support can land you in jail. Essentially, when there is money involved, Big Government will come after you — to get your money.

This heavy-handed enforcement does not apply to visitation, however. For example, a man who finds that his ex-wife won’t let him see the kids for their scheduled weekend visit has few cost effective options. It is rare for a Court to find a parent in Contempt for a few missed visits, and the costs of bringing a Contempt action can be prohibitive. The police do not normally step in to enforce Visitation Orders since this type of problem is considered a civil matter. Losing his temper and threatening his ex places him at risk of a Domestic Violence allegation, so his only real course of action is to hire an experienced attorney who can advocate on his behalf.

On the surface, it looks like that old cliche, “they say it’s not the money — it’s the money every time” is a factor in the difference in enforcement. When Big Government goes after delinquent fathers for not paying Child Support, Big Government is going after money. When Big Government ignores repeated violations of clear Court Orders for father’s Visitation, the money issue is patently absent.  Nobody is likely to get a check for dad seeing his kids when he is supposed to.

Critics have good reason to frame the discrepancy between the enforcement of Child Support and Visitation orders as a father’s rights issue. Even though the growth of women in higher earning positions has led to more cases of women being Ordered to pay Child Support, the latest United States census reports that about 85% of Child Support payers are fathers. Fathers also represent the majority of non-custodial parents.

If you are a non-custodial father, you may need the services of an experienced attorney who can make sure your support payments are in line with your income and that your visitation rights are protected. The law may not make it easy, but do not be afraid to do what is necessary to preserve your relationship with your children. Having a skilled San Jose child support lawyer on your side can help you protect your rights until the Courts catch up with the change in modern family structures.

Domestic Violence and Child Support

After a divorce, victims of Domestic Violence are often reluctant to seek San Jose child support because of the fear of angering their abuser. Some abusers will attempt to manipulate the victim by falsely offering to send voluntary child support instead of opening a formal case. In the experience of this attorney, these voluntary support payments have never been as much as what the Court would Order, and they usually were not regularly made either.

Child support is to make sure you are able to provide the level of care your child is entitled to based upon the standard of living of both parents. Under California Law, the child (ren) have a right to share in what each parent earns. Letting your ex intimidate you into going without support payments is a mistake.

When a victim of Domestic Violence is filing for child support, the Court can, and usually does if you ask, offer several legal protections. The victim should not have to meet with the abuser. In Court, the bailiff will regularly instruct parties where there has been Domestic Violence to stay apart by literally sitting on opposite side of the Courtroom and not talking before a hearing. Court bailiffs can, and often do, handcuff abusers and send them to jail for their antics in the Courtroom building. The victim’s personal information, such as home and work addresses, can be kept out of Court Records. The standard California DVRO CLETS (Domestic Violence Restraining Order California Law Enforcement Telecommunications System) application forms have boxes to check for child custody and support, so abuse victims may seek an Order of protection at the same time as seeking child support and/or spousal support. If you think you will have trouble facing your abuser, please remember that California Law allows you to bring a Support Person and the Judge will be watching what your abuser does in the Courtroom.

If you are seeking public assistance benefits for your child, such as food stamps, cash benefits, or housing assistance, the state of California requires that you file for child support. Tell your caseworker immediately that you are a victim of Domestic Violence to ensure that all safety precautions are taken when the state attempts to collect child support.

As a custodial parent, you should remember that child support and visitation are not connected. A parent has to pay child support even if he is not allowed to see his child. If the relationship had a history of Domestic Violence, the Court may forbid the abuser from seeing the child or require visitation to be supervised by an independent third party. Once a finding of Domestic Violence is made by the Court there can be serious consequences.

If you believe your abuser should not be allowed to visit your child, you should hire experienced legal counsel and cooperate fully with your attorney in gathering evidence that visits are not in the child’s best interests. Your child may need to speak to a psychologist who can testify in Court about the impact of Domestic Violence on the child’s relationship with the non-custodial parent.