Child Support Legal Process

Los Angeles County Child Support Services Department (CSSD) attorneys do not represent either parent or the child. Instead, they act in the public interest. There is no attorney-client relationship with either parent or with the child.

At times, CSSD or a party will file a Motion or Order to Show Cause with the court. If an agreement cannot be reached, the case will be heard by a judicial officer. Hearings and trials of local child support agency matters are usually short and the courts' calendars are usually very busy. Most parents represent themselves. If a parent fails to appear for a hearing, the case may be continued or the court may proceed with the hearing without that parent present. Cases are sometimes continued to allow one or both parents time to bring updated financial documents to court so that the judicial officer can make an accurate support order.

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When the Child Support Services Department has filed a Motion for Judgment to establish parentage and set child support, the Defendant has certain rights:

  • The right to an attorney, including the right to court-appointed counsel (for parentage only) if the party cannot afford counsel.
  • The right to genetic testing, if parentage is an issue in the case.
  • The right to present and cross-examine witnesses.
  • The right to testify himself or herself.
  • The right to exercise his or her privilege against self-incrimination.

If an alleged father requests genetic tests in a non-marital case where parentage has not been previously determined through a court order or Paternity Opportunity Program voluntary declaration (Family Code §7570 et seq.), the court will order the mother, alleged father, and the child to participate in Genetic Testing Process. By law, if a person fails to submit to genetic testing, this may result in a court order finding that person to be the parent of the child. If a finding of parentage is made, the judicial officer will next consider child support.

Child support is calculated under Family Code §4050 et seq. The Child Support Services Department attorneys and the courts are required to set “guideline” child support orders. In some cases, the judicial officer may deviate from the guideline amount for specified reasons. The main factors in determining the amount of child support are the income of both parents and the percentage of time the minor child spends with the Person Paying Support. For more information, see Calculating Child Support.

Any party can file a request for modification asking the court to change the amount of monthly child support owed because of a significant change in circumstances since the last order. Changes in the income of either parent (e.g., unemployment or becoming employed), an increase or decrease in child care expense, or a change in visitation could be qualifying factors. In support modification proceedings, the modified order can generally only be made effective beginning the first of the month after the motion or order to show cause was filed with the court.

Family Code §17520 provides that holds be placed on licenses issued by the State when the obligor (parent who owes support) is not in compliance with a support order. These licenses include professional, trade, recreational and driver's licenses. If a Person Paying Support (PPS) receives a license suspension notice, the PPS must first attempt to reach an agreement with the Child Support Services Department. If unsuccessful, the PPS may file a motion for judicial review of the license denial.

Once the Person Receiving Support becomes a party to the action, custody, visitation and restraining order issues may be raised in a case originally filed by a local child support agency. However, those issues will not be heard in the Los Angeles County IV-D courts. The IV-D Commissioners will hear support issues only. Pleadings seeking orders regarding these issues must be filed in a court other than the IV-D courts.

Los Angeles County currently has four Commissioners whose primary responsibility is to hear Title IV-D support matters pursuant to Family Code §4251. These Commissioners are specifically responsible for hearing IV-D actions to establish parentage and to establish and enforce child support. If a party objects to the Commissioner hearing the matter as a temporary judge, the Commissioner will still hear the matter and make findings and a recommended order. Within ten (10) court days, a Judge will review and ratify the recommended order, absent an objection from a party. If there is an objection, the Judge will issue a temporary order and set a de novo (new) hearing within ten (10) court days. Any party may waive his or her right to the review hearing at any time. Family Code §4251(c).

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