Rant about about the CA child support "disbursement system" - advice needed

This is partly a rant, but not vitriolic enough for the Pit, and I am also looking for some advice or just your opinion. (Kinda long, please bear with me…)

Background: My SO has been consistently paying child support for his kids. After a totally unrelated disagreement over a parenting issue, the kids’ mother apparently felt the need to make things difficult for him, and she went to the local child support agency (this is in California) and opened a child support case. It is important to note that my SO has been paying the full amount as set forth in their divorce decree and had not missed any payments.

So, SO gets an order/notice to withhold income for child support from the California State Disbursement Unit (SDU), who also sends it to his employer. The employer is directed to withhold the child support amount from his paycheck each month and send it to the SDU, then they send a check to the mother.**

So, SO’s employer starts withholding the money from his paychecks, and after two months elapses, he assumes all is well.

I was wary of this whole process from the beginning, and thought that to cover his butt, he needed some sort of “receipt” proving he paid every month. I mean, how can he be sure that the employer sent the check, the SDU got the check and processed it, and got it to the kids? There is a ton of room for mistakes in that process. So, he asked his lawyer and she said that his paystubs showing the withholding was sufficient proof.

So coming up on the third month of this, SO finds out that his ex-wife hasn’t gotten the child support for the past two months. He calls the SDU and they say they never got the money from his employer! Turns out, the employer had not been sending the payments even though they were withholding the money from each paycheck!!!

So in the eyes of the state of California, my SO has been delinquent in his payments, and was about to report him to the credit bureaus. Luckily he caught it in time.

So, my rant is directed at my SO’s employer, but even more so at the state of California:

(1) The employer dropped the ball, and apparently blamed it on some bureaucratic mess-up. Lame.

(2) Why didn’t the SDU notify anyone that payments weren’t received? If the employer is ordered to withhold the payments, and they fail to send the payments, and the SDU doesn’t notify anyone, why is my SO liable for this? He could have gotten in serious trouble and technically was “in arrears” for two months in the eyes of the state, something that I fear will come back to bite him.

So has anyone else had an experience similar to this? Any advice?


** On a side note, it should be noted that the state can do this simply at the request of the mother, and she doesn’t have to prove that the father ever did anything wrong, such as not sending payments. Apparently the state doesn’t need any reason whatsoever to garnish someone’s paycheck which strikes me as silly. SO has been paying his child support correctly for years, and for no reason, the state can just order his paychecks to be garnished??

I don’t have any advice, but a colleague of mine had a similar experience. New Jersey requires that child support be withheld from the paycheck and my co-worker had this done for many years. One day there was some kind of screw up in the payroll system and two payments were sent to a place from which they could not be recovered. The company was forced to make good (as they were operating under a court order), but turned around and asked my co-worker to give them the money back! He refused and appears to have prevailed.

IMO you are quite right about the employer. they were under a court order and they failed to prosecute it (by the way IANAL). He might consider asking them to write a letter of explanation to the SDU. Beyond that, he might ask his ex to advise him if she does not get the payment in a timely manner (and perhaps point out that the previous arrangement was more reliable).

I don’t have any advice, but a colleague of mine had a similar experience. New Jersey requires that child support be withheld from the paycheck and my co-worker had this done for many years. One day there was some kind of screw up in the payroll system and two payments were sent to a place from which they could not be recovered. The company was forced to make good (as they were operating under a court order), but turned around and asked my co-worker to give them the money back! He refused and appears to have prevailed.

IMO you are quite right about the employer. they were under a court order and they failed to prosecute it (by the way IANAL). He might consider asking them to write a letter of explanation to the SDU. Beyond that, he might ask his ex to advise him if she does not get the payment in a timely manner (and perhaps point out that the previous arrangement was more reliable).

Don’t get me started ranting about our child support system. Just don’t do it.

Non-custodial, by the way.

No, I’d like to hear your thoughts, please. These past two years that I have been with my SO have I have really learned a lot about the “system,” and it is very full of flaws and inequities.

What is sad about the situation I described in my OP is that in the end, my SO and his ex-wife will end up going back to the way they were doing it before, which WORKED… but now my SO is out $3,000 in lawyers fees.

Basically each month, The money went like this: Dad —> mom.

Then mom threw a bitch fit and got it set up like this:

Dad —> employer —> State of California —> Mom.

And apparently, the money moved through the above process via paper checks and snail mail!!! :eek:

Luckily, the ex-wife wants her money so badly that she agreed to go back to the original A —> B scenario, and they’ll be doing via electronic transfer through online banking, which since they have the same bank is immediate.

Anyway, when this whole thing started, I KNEW something like this would happen. I kept asking, how can you be sure your payment went through, and you were “credited” with the payment by the state? Do you get a receipt of any kind? Thing is, you DON’T have a way of knowing, and you don’t get any official receipt.

And for the custodial parent, it sucks too because you get your money from some bureaucratic state agency and you know how quick and reliable these types of agencies can be.

Last thought: it’s funny because the ex-wife thought she was making things hard for my SO by doing this, but in the end, it just made it harder for her to get her money… And it was easier for my SO, since the money was just automatically taken from his check and he didn’t have to worry about sending it or transferring it.

Anybody that adds in the government and courts, when everything is working is a fool. It only leads to delays and money lost as fees.

Well yeah, the ex-wife is definitely foolish. She was mad at my SO because he expressed concern about a parenting issue, and she did this in revenge. :rolleyes:

Anyone else have any input? Anyone??

Check your PM. Sorry, I got wordy.

Perhaps Stuffy will do a search on his name and stop by. I recall him writing several rants about his wife who’d periodically sign her kids up for government aid, causing the state of California to start taking money from Stuffy, and sending it to her, even though the kids were living with him.

I’ve seen this from both ends, as a supposedly non-custodial father and as an employer. The disbursement unit pretty much functions as a clearinghouse for payments. The real problem is the local unit who has the responsibility for tracking the child support case. That office would be the one to notify your husband of non-payment. However since the payment doesn’t go directly to the local office there is likely to be some delay between non payments and notification.

In addition to that, the local office has other ways of making sure child support is paid that are far more serious than a flag on your credit report. If a child support order is in place, the local office through a judge can have your Drivers’ License suspended, your passport revoked or an arrest warrant issued. While I was going to court for this as Omega Glory alludes to, the local agency had an employee who sat in court and did nothing else. That was Alameda County; perhaps your county may behave differently.

In Ohio, and employer that refuses to withhold, or withholds the money but refuses to send it to the CSEA, is usually referred to both the local prosecutor’s office and the state attorney general’s office.

In my miserable year as a county enforcement worker, I never saw it go that far - usually just the threat is enough to make the business fall in line.

In my county, all child support cases went through the county CSEA, and all payments and disbursements went through the State system. If we didn’t get payment for a month*, the case would be flagged, and I would start working it, looking for income sources and sending notices of default to the NCP. After two months, I suspended the driver’s license. After three months, the case got referred to the prosecutor’s office for contempt charges. A full year, and we’re talking felony non-support.

What your SO should have done (in Ohio, at least) was to call the local CSEA and explain the situation, and provide copies of his check stubs. I would have put a note in his file to cut him some slack, and started making noises at the employer.

  • Technically, if we didn’t get the yearly support amount pro-rated for that month, taking in to account any advance payments and biweekly pay periods.

God, I hated that job. I really wish everybody on the SDMB would have excellent child support cases, just so these threads would stop coming up and reminding me about it.

Do you know if your SO got the money deducted pre-tax? If so…another bite to the ex for HELPING him.

I have absolutely no experience to add or anything (although I am an employer and I know a little about taxes) but I have a gut feeling that your SO will be fine because he is not the one who screwed up at all. Of course, he might have to do the legwork to make sure everything gets done properly but all of the “evidence” is in his favor that he complied with what the state wanted. If he’s paying for a lawyer, he’ll be doubly fine - the lawyer will help sort it out.

The OP says that her husband and his ex agreed to go back to their old way of dealing directly w/ each other, but if there’s a court order in place, isn’t there the possibility that they could face more problems for not complying w/ the court?

The State of California has Asked/Ordered me to start paying my Child Support Payments through them, instead of through the State of Arizona. My Daughter was was born in Arizona, and I brought suit for paternity in AZ. My daughter’s Mother moved to CA when my Daughter was four. I haven’t complied with CA’s request because I fear a situation like the OP describes. So far no one’s bugged me about it.

I pay my child support to the SCDU in PA, who disburses same to my ex. This is done via direct remittance, as I’m self-employed. I’m offered a dual record of payment, in that I have the document of payment (check) and an online account status for my case showing payments received, disbursed, current support order, and so forth. Personally, I’d rather have the court holding a record of the matter, as opposed to a vindictive former SO.

I’m in the SF Bay Area. My ex pays his support this way. It was just easier. He would “forget” to pay support about every other month, even though I had an order, so now it goes through the state. When the court set up the child support order, they asked me if he’d been paying, and I said yes, so they didn’t go retroactive for the several months we were separated.

If your SO has proof (canceled checks, signed receipts from his ex…even if it’s just a piece of paper with her signature on it saying “I got $200 on this date”), they will take that into consideration.

As danceswithcats said, this way there’s a record that it’s paid. She can’t take him back to court and say it didn’t happen. Considering some of the things you’ve posted about the woman before, this should be considered a good thing.

Because it’s his responsibility to stay on top of it. But yes, the state of California can be a right bitch to non custodial dads. My step daughters’ mother took their father back to court for further support when his youngest turned 18, stating that she still lived at home and was going to school. Not only did she NOT live at home, she was in a different state, supporting herself. Unfortunately, we weren’t able to tell the court that because they didn’t send the summons til the day before the court date. We got it two days afterward. And he was on the hook for another three years til Tasha turned 21.

edited to add: Since he didn’t know this, they suspended his driver’s license, which is the next step after non payment. After that, I’m told by the spouse of another non custodial dad, they attach your state tax return.

I am not sure if it was a “court order.” It was never put before a judge, it was just the county child support office that sent the “order,” based on nothing but a request from the ex-wife, but it was not signed by a judge.

Anyway, apparently the ex-wife went down to the office and “canceled” the arrangement, although unless I saw some solid evidence of this, I am skeptical. So we’ll see.

I can understand this is a good system for those “forgetful” parents, but in this case, he had been making all his payments correctly, even when he was unemployed for over 2 months.

Yes he has canceled checks and in a few cases, handwritten “receipts” from her. I keep emphasizing to him how important it is for him to carefully document everything.

This is what alarmed me… my SO didn’t know what was going on, and not only could it have been reported to the credit bureau, but he could have had his license suspended! Although, we live in a different state (Virginia) so I wonder if CA could have VA suspend his license (if something like this ever happens again).

Although I have to wonder, how would suspending a dad’s license really help? If he has no license, how would he get to work to make the money that he owes? :confused:

Wife of a former support enforcement officer for Washington State checking in.

Don’t let California get you! You have the right to have your support collected in the state you reside in. California is one of the worst states as far as support–each county has their own rules. Of course, Texas is worse because they will put you in jail. And Washington will suspend your drivers’, fishing, hunting or business license. Basically, each state has their own little torture they use.

To the OP: The county can seize the employers bank account and get the money from them. Usually they will call the employer first and ask what the hell is going on. Then, if this is a bad actor employer, they can just seize the account. However, your support enforcement case is only as good as the person managing it. California does not pay their support enforcment staff well and it tends to show in the service you get. Sorry you are going through this.