The future of child support collection in California: Beware ALL

By Richard Bennett of Coalition of Parent Support (COPS), in California

January 6, 1999

Folks -

When the legislature reconvened in January, Child Support Reform was high on the list of the Assembly's priorities. Assemblywoman Sheila Kuehl of Encino, the new chair of the Judiciary Committee, intends to use this issue to create a statewide office for herself, as Tom Hayden once attempted to do with the "Big Green" environmental initiative.

Kuehl plans to replace the existing system, where responsibilities for child support collection are divided between the Department of Social Services, the District Attorneys, the Family Court, and the Franchise Tax Board, with a single, statewide bureaucracy administered by a child support "Czar", herself, reporting directly to the Governor. The Department of Child Support will issue child support orders through an administrative process, overseen by an Administrative Law Judge, where the proposed order will be presented by an employee of the department.

Once approved by the ALJ, also an employee of the department, the order will have the full force and effect of an order issued in Family Court today: non-compliance, real or alleged, will result in license suspension, property seizure, and jail.

Collections and accounting will all be handled by the friendly folks at the Franchise Tax Board, with the District Attorneys out of the picture entirely, except for criminal prosecutions for non-payment. It's called "streamlining", because it's the most efficient way to deprive responsible parents of the fruits of our labor while building a wall between us and our children.

Note that this system does not deal with timeshares, custody changes, and visitation enforcement. These low-priority issues will be left on the back burner of the Family Courts, to languish on overcrowded calendars for months and years at a time.

"Streamlining" accomplishes a primary goal Kuehl has pursued since her election to the Assembly in 1994: it effectively prevents fathers from gaining custody or visitation when the mother doesn't want us to have it, unless we're able and willing to fight our way through the muck of a court system even worse than it is today.

Kuehl's plan has a long way to go before it's successful, however, but we're the only serious obstacle in the way. Already the streamlining advocates are trying to buy our support, at the same time that they try to win media support and put pressure on the Governor to go long. A combined hearing of the Assembly Judiciary and Human Services Committees is scheduled for Tuesday, January 26th, to review the plan.

A panel consisting of streamlining advocates ACES and the National Center for Youth Law, as well as the District Attorneys and yours truly will debate it, and public testimony will be taken. We all have to be there, in organizational t-shirts or with buttons.

Gray Davis, the new governor, for all his talk about moderation and governing form the center, is going to be trouble. His father ran out on his family when Davis was a freshman at Stanford, leaving his mother with a pile of bills and no way to pay them. Davis didn't speak to his father for the last thirty years of his life, and he is not going to be easy to win over, so those nice Wilson vetoes are a thing of the past.

Speak out in Sacramento on January 26th, or forever wish you had.

Richard Bennett

Legislative Vice President, Coalition of Parent Support

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