The Department of Child Support Services collects and disburses money from a non-custodial parent for the care and support of a minor child. While many people believe that the agency is a last resort for collecting payment from dead beat parents, both parents can benefit from utilizing the agency even when receiving money isn’t a problem.

In the state of California, child support is awarded in order to assist the child in maintaining the same standard of care he or she benefited from before the parents separated. There is a common misconception that it covers only basic necessities. In fact, payment is intended to cover a wide variety of the child’s expenses.

These include housing, electricity, food, school supplies, toiletries, extracurricular activities, over the counter medicines, haircuts, clothing, and others. Essentially, every expense is taken into account except for non-covered medical costs, health insurance premiums, and work related childcare.

The state calculates the basic monthly living cost for each individual child based on both parents’ income and the number of days the child spends with each parent. This figure is then divided into percentages, allocating how much each parent is responsible for.

Federal law mandates that a single agency be responsible for collecting and sending child support payments. The California DCSS Disbursement Unit is responsible for handling this. Payments are typically sent directly to the state, and disbursed to the custodial parent using an electronic debit card or direct deposit.

Services Offered by California DCSS
The Department does not represent either parent, instead they represent the interest of the supported children, focusing on matters of child support law. The services are free for TANF recipients. Other parents are required to pay a small fee. Children must be under the age of 18 and a resident of California. The following services are available for all parents living apart, regardless of custodial status:

  • Establishing paternity of a child
  • Locating an absent parent and his or her assets
  • Obtaining a court order for child support
  • Enforcing the court order
  • Maintaining an accurate account of payments sent and received
  • Collecting and distributing child support payments
  • Modifying child support orders when justified and needed

Non-custodial parents have the option of paying child support by personal check, automated bank draft, or automatic credit card withdrawal. This can be done in person, on the website, or by telephone. All financial information is kept secure.

Establishing Paternity and Obtaining Child Support Order
The agency’s tasks include establishing paternity of the child and obtaining an official child support order. This action does much more than simply requires one parent to pay the other monthly. Tangible advantages for the child include being eligible for the other parent’s benefits, such as inheritance, disability or social security payments, and life insurance.

Eliminating Future Disagreements
Obtaining an enforceable order and allowing the agency to manage a case ensures that one parent’s hard feelings never mean that a child must go without. Circumstances change over the course of the child’s life. Disagreements can arise, such as re-marriage, changes in income and cost of living increases. Child support orders are typically reviewed every three years, but can be modified sooner if one parent can prove a change in circumstance.

Ensuring Fair and Equal Distribution
Utilizing the California DCSS means that both parents are financially responsible for raising the child. Note that fair and equal does not necessarily mean a 50/50 split of expenses. If one parent has a greater earning capacity than the other one, then that is factored into the order. Both parents’ incomes are taken into consideration. If one parent does not work then minimum wage is usually assigned to ensure joint responsibility.

Benefits for the Non-Custodial Parent
The Department of Child Support Services also provides the non-custodial parent with financial protection. By establishing a record of payments through the state, there can never be any doubt as to whether or not the payment was made. This eliminates the risk of being taken back to court for claims of back child support or contempt for failing to pay as ordered.

Many non-custodial parents find themselves in this dilemma when the other parent files for any type of state assistance. A review of child support is automatically triggered and can result in garnished wages or other sanctions. Simply giving the other parent money on an as needed basis is not sufficient protection from action.

It is far better to ask the state to consider any significant monetary compensation paid in addition to child support. It may be possible to achieve a downward deviation of the order, depending on the amount contributed. Common situations in which this occurs include paying the premium on the child’s health insurance, housing payments, car insurance, or daycare expenses. Each situation is addressed individually.

For those who are behind on payments, the department can arrange payment plans and help reduce the burden of catching up. This may include forgiving a portion of the debt and obtaining court permission to modify the current order.

Benefit to Custodial Parents
The obvious benefit to custodial parents is the assurance of receiving regular, on time child support payments. In the event that the non-custodian can’t or won’t pay, the state has numerous resources available to advocate for the child. The law frowns on financially irresponsible parents who are not willing to pay child support.

In addition to garnishing wages and withholding income tax returns, a parent in arrears can have their driver’s license revoked, be denied a passport, and could potentially face jail time. Other penalties are denial of boating or fishing licenses and liens on personal property.

In certain circumstances, the custodial parent may become indebted to the state if they receive financial assistance and fail to cooperate with child support collection efforts. The Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, or TANF, program can withhold up to 25 percent of benefits or require repayment of funds. Utilizing the California DCSS Disbursement system ensures compliance with other welfare programs.

The California DCSS Disbursement program is set up to benefit both custodial and non-custodial parents alike. The agency can assist regardless of the current status of the case and even if the non- custodial parent lives in another state. By ensuring that child support needs are met, children benefit by having available resources to provide for their care.