The theory underlying California's child support system is easy enough to understand: Parents have a legal responsibility to care for their child. This legal duty applies whether the parent lives with the child or not. The state maintains a child support system in the interest of making sure children get the support they need.
In practice, child support can be a lot more complicated. For many paying parents, it can be difficult to come up with the cash every month to comply with a child support order, especially if they have suffered a job loss or other financial setback. For receiving parents, child support can be a source of worry, especially when they aren't getting the resources they need to properly care for their child.
Rather than having the parents handle the child support order themselves, the payments go through the local child support agency, which acts as a neutral third party.
When a parent refuses to pay, or is late in paying court-ordered child support, California has a number of ways it can enforce the order. The state can suspend the parent's driver's license or passport, revoke a professional or occupational license, put a lien on property, or intercept tax refunds and any lottery winnings. Unpaid court orders gather interest at a rate of 10%, so the unpaid balance can quickly grow into a large amount of money. In the worst cases, a court may file civil contempt charges against the delinquent parent, leading to a number of serious legal problems.
Fortunately, parents who are struggling to keep up with their support orders can request a modification. Child support orders are based on the child's needs and the parent's ability to pay. If the parent's ability to pay changes, the order should be changed. For example, when a paying parent loses a job, he or she can request a modification to lower the monthly payment amount.
Both parents requesting enforcement of an order and parents requesting a modification can benefit from seeking out a lawyer with experience in family law. A lawyer can advise them on their legal options and represent them at court hearings and more.