Victory! Schwarzenegger Signs F & F Child Support Reform Bill SB 1355

[Update, 9/29/10:–Governor Schwarzenegger signed SB 1355 into law today. It will take effect on January 1, 2011.

Together with you in the love of our children,

Glenn Sacks, MA
Executive Director, Fathers and Families

Ned Holstein, M.D., M.S.
Founder, Chairman of the Board, Fathers and Families


[Update 6/16/10:  SB 1355 passed the Assembly Judiciary Committee.–GS]

[Update 5/28/10:  SB 1355 passed the Senate by unanimous consent.–GS]

[Update 5/23/10:  After passing the Senate Judiciary Committee unanimously on May 4, SB 1355 went to the Senate Appropriations Committee. This is a difficult hurdle for California legislation right now–given California’s terrible budget crisis, it is difficult to get any bill with a fiscal impact passed. SB 1355 passed Appropriations unanimously May 24, a big step forward, and now goes to the full Senate.–GS]

The current child support system can be a nightmare for noncustodial parents, particularly during the recession. Hard-luck parents are often saddled with inflated and erroneous child support obligations and arrearages, and face heavy-handed enforcement action when they’re unable to comply. Sometimes abuses within the child support system make it very difficult for noncustodial parents to function as fathers and mothers to the children who love them and need them.

Fathers & Families and its legislative representative Michael Robinson are currently involved in legislation and other remedies to hack away at the child support system’s many problems and reform it for the benefit of children and families.

California Senator Rod Wright (D-Los Angeles) has long been a leader in working for a balanced family law system, and has three child support reform bills pending this year. Fathers & Families, in cooperation with the Department of Child Support Services, the Family Law Executive Committee of the California State Bar, the Public Defenders Association, and others, has been instrumental in introducing and working for the passage of child support reform bills in the California 2009-2010 legislative session.

To date, all three have passed the Senate Judiciary Committee, including SB 1355, which was passed unanimously on May 4. The three bills are:

SB 578 (Wright): Currently the interest rate on child support in California is a whopping 10%, and at least a third of California’s staggering $14.4 billion child support debt is interest. Particularly in the recession, this interest saddles hard-luck child support obligors with huge paper arrearages they can’t possibly pay. This sets them up for abusive enforcement action or drives them underground, making it difficult for them to function as parents for their children.

Currently child support obligors who do manage to make their monthly child support obligations still fall behind because interest keeps accruing on their arrearages. Under SB 578, the Department of Child Support Services cannot charge a child support obligor any interest in any month where they have made their normal monthly payment–an important bread and butter reform for many child support obligors.

SB 580 (Wright):  SB 580 will ensure that noncustodial parents aren”t saddled with an unreasonably high percentage of their children”s medical care costs and will bring California into compliance with federal law.

SB 1355 (Wright): A Department of Justice study on reducing prisoner recidivism focuses on an important but little-mentioned problem child support obligors face–the crushing child support debts which accrue while they were behind bars. Since interest accrues rapidly, many former prisoners struggle under a staggering debt they will never pay off. Some return to jail because of nonpayment of child support. Others are re-incarcerated after turning to illegal activity to support themselves, because at low wage lawful jobs, 50% or more of their paychecks are garnished to pay the debt.

These debts often make it impossible for ex-offenders–many of whom are young fathers who were incarcerated for nonviolent drug offenses–to play a meaningful role in their children”s lives. Prisoners pay for their crimes with their time behind bars–these debts often amount to a punishment artificially extended beyond their sentences.

Wright’s SB 1355 will address this problem by mandating that “the obligation of a person ordered to pay child support is suspended for the period of time in which the person ordered to pay support is incarcerated or institutionalized. This effectively takes existing law that entitles an unemployed obligor who had lost their job the right to modify and order and applies it to incarcerated or institutionalized persons.’ It”s a common-sense solution in an area where common sense is often lacking.  This provision does not apply to an incarcerated or institutionalized person where it is determined that they do have assets. To read Fathers & Families” official support letter for SB 1355, click here.

We have also worked with Wright and California DCSS on the groundbreaking Compromise of Arrears program, which allows parents who are unfairly saddled with inflated, unpayable child support arrearages to settle them for modest cash payments. We are currently involved in efforts to expand the COAP program and simplify the application and approval process. Robinson has worked as a member of the Department of Child Support Services COAP Programs Workgroup.

Fathers & Families has also participated in the California Administrative Office of the Courts” Child Support Guideline Focus Group, which is reviewing the “fairness, appropriateness, and comprehensibility of the California Statewide Uniform Child Support Guideline.’

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