Low-income noncustodial fathers often face problems with the child support system which hinders their ability to function as fathers to their children. These fathers are often buried by unrealistic child support obligations and charged to repay the cost of the welfare benefits their children’s mothers received.
California”s Compromise of Arrears Program provides an example of the type of pragmatic approach these men need. According to a California Judicial Council report, 80% of California child support debtors earn poverty level wages, and over a quarter of the arrears total is interest. Under COAP, these obligors can settle their paper debts to the state for realistic amounts.
Sacramento legislative advocate Michael Robinson, who worked on the legislation, explains:
‘Rather than engaging in the ‘we”ll crack down on deadbeats” chest-thumping so often employed by politicians, COAP is a common sense, everybody wins solution. Instead of hounding and jailing low income dads, the COAP program allows these dads to provide their children real support, both emotional and financial.’
COAP was originally a result of a Rod Wright bill that passed the California legislature in 2002, but former California Governor Gray Davis vetoed it. Robinson got the bill through in 2003. It was to set to sunset on January 1, 2007, but Robinson got it extended until January 1, 2009.
From COAP’s inception to 2007 the program has received more than 10,540 applications. Of those 3,584 applicants qualified. The total debt for the settled cases was more than $89 million and the Department of Social Services (DCSS) settled those cases on an average of 11 cents on the dollar collecting over $12 million. This translated into approximately $77 million of relief to non-custodial parents.
On March 10, 2008, DCSS released its 2008 report on the Compromise Of Arrears Program (COAP). The report states that since its implementation in 2004, COAP has “demonstrated effectiveness in reducing arrears.” The report further lauds the program as “a valuable tool for collecting arrears that were once deemed uncollectible and reducing California’s growing child support arrears balance.”
This year DCSS formed a workgroup composed of state department officials and Local Child Support Agency (LCSA) representatives to improve the effectiveness and outreach of COAP.
Robinson says “There is general agreement in the Legislature and the Administration to expand the program and make it permanent.”