Receiving child support may soon become easier

Foster City resident Marcia Harrison puts her struggle for child support into simple terms.

“It was a big mess,” said Harrison, who is using a pseudonym to protect her identity.

After her divorce, Harrison’s ex-husband was to pay $3,000 a month in support for the couple’s two boys. For two years, he simply refused.

“He just opted not to pay us,” she said.

While Harrison hired a $350-an-hour attorney, her ex-husband claimedthe business they formerly owned together wasn’t making money and used legal tactics to delay Harrison as she pursued the payments.

As it turned out, her former husband did have money. Recently, Harrison received her first child-support check — for $44,000. She received the money after finally going to the San Mateo County Department of Child Support Services, which levied her ex-husband’s bank account.

With a collection rate of 60 percent, San Mateo County’s child support services are ahead of most California counties when it comes to recovering support. The state average is 50 percent.

The department works on behalf of 19,000 Peninsula children and from Oct. 1, 2006, to Sept. 30, 2007, collected more than $30 million, according to Iliana Rodriguez, the department’s director.

On Monday, the department will launch a new system that county officials hope will improve the collection rate even further, as well as making things simpler for custodial and noncustodial parents alike.

The statewide automated system has been in operation since last year. Napa, Sonoma and Santa Cruz counties already have it in place. By linking each county to a centralized database of all child support cases, it is expected to improve accuracy of records, speed payments and streamline the process for employers whose workers’ paychecks are garnished for support payments.

Parents will be issued PIN numbers to log in and track their cases; paperwork will be filed electronically. If a parent is paying support to children in multiple counties, the cases can be combined in a single location.

The system is expected to be in place in California’s 58 counties by next November.

The move to create a single statewide automated child-support system began with a 1988 change in federal law. California failed to comply with the federal regulations and has been penalized more than $1.1 billion.

Rodriguez said there might be delays in child support chases initially while workers learn to use the system and the bugs are worked out.

tbarak@examiner.com

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