Your San Francisco Child Support Case: The Basics

Not all families are the same, which is very true in San Francisco. Sometimes, child custody arrangements mean that parents and children don't live together. In this situation, one parent may have to pay the other for taking care of the child, which is called child support. Whether you would like to know if your child is entitled to support from a parent, or if you are looking for more information about your own support obligations, the following is an overview of the child support system in San Francisco.

What is Child Support?

Both parents have a duty to provide for their child whether the child lives with them or not, and whether or not the parent is involved in the child's life. When a child does not live with one of his parents, a court will often require that parent to make payments for the support and maintenance of the child. This is called child support. These payments can be temporary, a single lump sum payment, monthly payments, or subject to modification. Sometimes both parents have to pay child support when another family member or guardian takes care of the child.

Who Can Receive Child Support?

Any custodial parent or guardian may receive child support. The purpose of it is to make sure that the child receives the same amount of financial support whether the child lives with both parents or not. Who the child lives with is usually determined in a child custody case or as part of a divorce decree. If the child lives with both parents equally, and both parents earn roughly the same amount, child support may not be an issue.

Child Support and the Courts

In California, child support determinations are made with Local Child Support Agencies. For San Francisco residents, this is the Department of Child Support Services for the City and County of San Francisco. The LCSA will file a complaint (a request for child support) with the local court, asking for child support from the noncustodial parent. The noncustodial parent will then respond to the complaint filed by the agency, and both the custodial and noncustodial parents will submit information about their incomes and expenses. If the parents do not agree on the child support amount, they will appear in court for a hearing and the court will make a decision on the child support amount. Then, the LCSA will issue an order for the noncustodial parent's employer to withhold income for child support.

Establishing Paternity

If the parents were married when the child was born, paternity is assumed. If the parents were not married when a child was born, paternity needs to be established in order for the custodial parent to be eligible to receive child support. Establishing paternity may also give the child rights to medical and life insurance, social security and veterans benefits, inheritance rights, and access to family medical history.
The easiest way for paternity to be established is when the child is born. Parents may fill out a Declaration of Paternity at the hospital. This form can also be filled out after the child is born with San Francisco's Department of Child Support Services.

If the father does not agree to sign a Declaration of Paternity, genetic testing is an option. It is available at the Department of Child Support Services, and may be ordered by a court if the father refuses to cooperate.

Receiving Child Support

After a court issues a child support order, your local child support agency will issue an Income Withholding Order to the other parent's employer.  The employer will deduct the child support payment from that parent's paycheck and send the money to the State Disbursement unit. The payment should be received within two business days, and may be distributed to the custodial parent by direct deposit to a bank account, by an Electronic Payment Card that works just like a debit card, or a check to the custodial parent's home.

Paying Child Support

Most child support payments will be made on your behalf by your employer to the child support program through income withholding. This ensures that you will not fall behind on payments and gives you the security of knowing that you are paying the right amount. It also forms a record of your payment in case you ever need to prove that you made payments. You should keep a record of your pay stubs to ensure that you are getting credit for the payments you make. If income withholding does not apply to you, you may also pay online, over the phone, set up automatic withdrawals from a bank account, or pay by check.

Ending and Modifying Child Support

A child support order may be changed if there is a significant increase in a parent's earnings, there is a change in custody, or a change in any factor that went in to determining child support.  Either parent may request a modification, and must give reasons for the modification like a job loss, jail, or getting a new job. In San Francisco, the request is made to the Department of Child Support Services who will then make a request to the court. If both parents agree to the changed amount ahead of time, the process is a lot faster.

Terminating child support, however, is not something that happens simply as a result of a change in circumstances. Normally, child support ends when a child turns 18. Some other reasons for closing a child support case include the death of the owing parent, paternity cannot be established, the owing parent cannot be found, and the order is no longer enforceable.

The child support process can be very confusing, especially if this is your first time. You want to make sure that your child is being cared for properly, and that your rights as a parent are upheld. Because child support orders are issued by a court, speaking with a local attorney with experience in child support cases may be helpful. Whether you are being asked to pay or are seeking support for a child, having an attorney at your side may help to ensure that a court fully understands your side of the matter.

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