It Could Be worse…

Hello all…,

   The above sentiment is cold comfort. Any of you who have been reading my postings about my conflict with the CA Department of Child Support Services and its arbitrary methods of auditing child support cases, know what I am talking about. I always think of the below article by Lisa Vorderbrueggen of the Contra Costa Times when I think of the callous bureaucratic abuse that I’ve suffered at the hands of the DCSS. I am always amazed at the indifferent and casual attitude that the DCSS takes as its incompetence destroys someone’s financial life. In all my dealings with the DCSS I have never gotten a clear explanation on why NonCustodial Parents have to financially suffer because of the errors of the DCSS. I’m also appalled at the bemused, “sucks to be you” tone of the article. Anywayread on to see what I’m talking about. 

By Lisa Vorderbrueggen

Contra Costa Times

Posted:   12/22/2011 07:01:10 PM PST0 Comments | Updated:   3 years ago

Hundreds of parents in Contra Costa County who owe child support could have a nasty surprise waiting for them.

The county’s Child Support Services Department has switched computer systems four times in 10 years, and in the transitions, some parents were never charged interest.

Until now.

The county is cleaning up old cases, and where audits reveal late child support payments to which no interest was applied, the county will add it to the parent’s bill.

It could add up to thousands of dollars.

Just ask James Coe of Antioch.

In July, he owed $1,842.

After the audit, he owed $55,806.

“I’m 63 years old and on Social Security disability,” Coe said. “I’ll be dead before this is ever paid off.”

His July bill does contain an asterisk next to the $1,842, which referred to a footnote: “May not include accrued interest.”

They weren’t kidding.

Coe had stopped paying for his two children in mid-1991 when he says he suffered from bipolar disease and couldn’t work.

He applied for disability, but it took years to secure it. He didn’t start paying again until late 1999, when the county began taking $216 a month out of his $1,200-a-month disability check.

Coe didn’t know it, but the interest clock started ticking in 1991 at a rate of $150 to $250 a month. A parent owes interest only on late child support payments, and there is no time limit when it can be collected.

Coe’s two children are in their 30s. His ex-wife receives the money.

“I know I owe the money, but to get a bill like this is a heck of a final note to your life,” he said.

The glitch started with the county’s original 1983 computerized child support collection system. It was the state’s first such system, but it couldn’t calculate interest.

The county’s second system, installed in 1998, included the feature, but the law required staffers to audit every individual case before flipping the interest calculation switch, said Peggy Hawkins, chief assistant deputy director of the Child Support Services Department.

“At the time, we had 70,000 cases, and there was no way we could perform a financial audit on every case,” Hawkins said.

All California counties in 2008 moved to a centralized child support payment computer system.

The interest glitch has surfaced elsewhere, but Contra Costa has had more trouble because it had to import data from the old computer system, said a spokeswoman for the California Department of Child Support Services.

In the meantime, Hawkins’ staff has been chipping away at the audits.

Hawkins has about 1,000 remaining cases that date back to the pre-1998 computer system.

She estimates it will take about six months to finish the audits.

She doesn’t know how many parents will find themselves in Coe’s position. The details of each case vary, and privacy laws preclude releasing information about individuals.

“It is unfortunate that we didn’t have the ability to turn on the interest in the past,” Hawkins said. “The new system is doing it automatically. But we really want to work with parents. If they find themselves in a situation where they are unable to pay their child support, we urge them to contact us.”

Contact Lisa Vorderbrueggen at 925-945-4773, www.ibabuzz.com/politics or at Twitter.com/lvorderbrueggen.

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