Navigating through the maze of paperwork and procedures involved in seeking child support can seem as daunting as battling traffic on the 405 at rush hour. This article will demystify the process and provide you with key information to help you request and receive child support payments.
How Do I Request Child Support?
In California, every parent is legally obligated to financially support his or her child. This means that parents are responsible for their child's living expenses -- i.e., food, clothing, education, and medical expenses. You may have a casual agreement with your ex regarding monthly support payments. But what happens if your ex fails to hold up his or her end of your deal and stops making payments?
In order to use the court to legally enforce a support obligation, you will need a child support order. To seek a child support order, first make sure you have an open case with the court or with your local child support agency. Depending on whether or not you have already filed for divorce or legal separation, you may have to open a new case. If you are not married to the child's other parent, you will need to take the additional step of establishing paternity (legal fatherhood) in order to secure the legal rights of the child -- as well as your rights as a parent.
Once you have an open case with the court, your next step is to file the paperwork for a Request for Order. The Request for Order is a formal request to the court, basically asking that the court do two things: 1) make or modify a child support order; and 2) "summon" or order the other parent to appear before the court. You will need to file your completed paperwork with the court by taking it to Lamoreaux Justice Center (341 The City Drive South), and giving it to the Family Law Clerk in room 706 on the 7th floor.
Can We Agree to a Support Amount Without Going to Court?
If you and ex are on good (or decent) terms, and manage to agree on a support amount on your own, you can file this agreement with the court by completing and signing a Stipulation to Establish or Modify a Child Support Order. A judicial officer must then approve the signed agreement. Keep in mind that California courts follow a statewide guideline formula to calculate support amounts, meaning that the court may not accept your agreement if the amount is different from formula's calculation. The best interests of the children will be of paramount concern to the decision-makers.
What If We Can't Agree on a Support Amount?
If you and your ex do not agree on an amount, the judge will decide on an amount for you on your hearing date (the date assigned to you when you filed your Request for Order). The judge will determine an amount based on the guideline formula mentioned above. Some factors included in the formula are:
Can I Change the Support Amount?
Life happens, circumstances change. One parent may lose a job, your child's healthcare costs may rise. Whatever the new development, a parent usually will have to show the court that there has been a "change in circumstances" that requires the support amount be increased or decreased.
Remember that the judge will use the guideline formula in recalculating the new amount, so you should expect that the calculation will include all changes in both parents' circumstances. Many parents are surprised to find that changes in the amount of time spent with their child are included in the calculation. After factoring in all of these changes, a modification may or may not have the intended result.
How Do I Enforce My Support Order?
If a parent refuses to pay support as required, the next step is to contact the Orange County Department of Child Support Services. This agency uses a variety of administrative methods to enforce child support orders, including:
Administrative methods of enforcement do not usually involve the courts. However, in the event that they prove ineffective, the agency may ask a court to enforce the agreement. Once a court finds that a parent is in violation of a support order, the court may hold the parent in civil or criminal contempt. It may also issue an order requiring that the parent seek work.
Where Can I Get More Help?
Without a doubt, filing for child support can be a confusing and complicated process. Add to this confusion the deeply personal and emotional nature of family law, in general, and it is no wonder that many helpful resources have been established to help parents through their cases.
The Orange County Department of Child Support Services will assist any parent with a variety of services -- establishing paternity, requesting a receiving a child support order, locating a noncustodial parent, and modifying an existing support -- free of charge. California courts also provide neutral Family Law Facilitators to explain information and provide free assistance completing paperwork. A Family Law Facilitator will not be your attorney, so you will need to retain a private attorney if you wish to receive legal advice.
Contact a qualified attorney.