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San Diego County Surpasses Peers In Child Support Collection

Child Support Services is housed inside the San Diego County Courthouse in downtown, shown June 17, 2016.
Megan Wood
Child Support Services is housed inside the San Diego County Courthouse in downtown, shown June 17, 2016.

San Diego County Surpasses Peers In Child Support Collection
When it comes to handing out child support payments, San Diego is outperforming other large counties in California.

When it comes to handing out child support payments, San Diego is outperforming other large counties in California.

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Data from the state Department of Child Support Services show that San Diego County collected and distributed $112 million in child support payments on time in fiscal year 2015. That’s 71 percent of the payments due — a rate six percentage points higher than other similar-sized counties and nearly 10 percentage points better than Los Angeles County.

The statewide average last year was 67 percent.

The high collection rate makes San Diego’s program cost-effective. According to state data, the county collected $3.73 for every dollar it spent on operating costs. That’s more than $1.20 better than the statewide average.

It’s unclear why San Diego County is outperforming its peers. Neither state nor county officials could explain San Diego’s relative success on the performance measures.

“San Diego County is committed to the State of California’s vision by working with parents — custodial and noncustodial — and guardians to ensure children and families receive court-ordered financial and medical support,” San Diego County’s Department of Child Support Services wrote in an email response to questions. “By collecting and distributing consistent payments we help local families achieve and maintain self-sufficiency.”

Steve Berenson, a family law professor at Thomas Jefferson School of Law, said the degree of difficulty in collecting child support varies from case to case.

But the county “has tremendous tools to actually collect” payments, he said. “Bank accounts can be levied, tax refunds can be intercepted.”

Sometimes parents struggle to make child support payments because they are sporadically employed and their income isn’t enough to meet the required payments. In those cases, Berenson said, the county can file a court motion to modify the amount due.

On the other hand, parents who simply refuse to pay can be found in contempt of court and sent to jail. “In California,” Berenson said, “that is a rare remedy because that would cut off child support payments” entirely.

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