October 11, 2013 by Robert Franklin, Esq.
Here’s one father’s story of his fight against the child support bureaucracy of Los Angeles County, California. Welcome Doug Ricketson and thank you for sharing your story.
Hello. My name is Doug Ricketson and I am a non-custodial parent. Over the last twelve years, my ex-wife, the family court and the Department of Child Support Services have made me feel like a third-class citizen. I was saddled with an unsustainable child and spousal support order, and threatened with almost six months in jail for contempt of a court order. Eight years after my divorce I found myself in such a profound and deepening state of debt that I could only see myself as an indentured servant for the rest of my life. The cherry on the cake is the fact that my children were indoctrinated to hate me. Nice.
The above, as miserable as it has been, is not why I am writing today. If you want to read the full chronological tick-tock of the misery I've been through, please take a look at my blog; it will fill you in on all of the details. http://ricketsondouglas.wordpress.com/
No, I'm writing about the latest episode of misery: an audit of my history of payments to the Los Angeles Department of Child Support Services.
In order to get the full effect, we have to start six years ago. In 2007, my mother passed. I inherited enough to pay off the substantial child and spousal support arrearages that had accumulated. As harsh as it sounds, my mother's death gave me a new lease on life, or so I thought.
In April 2008, I paid the Los Angeles Department of Child Support Services $43,175.00. I thought this payment would take care of everything. Everything would be covered: past due child support, spousal support, interest on each of them, everything. I would be current. I believed that I would be current in my obligations because actual employees of the LA DCSS gave me that impression. Being current in my obligations is very important to me. It's important because my ex-wife earns 10% on any arrearage. This is no small amount given the level of support payments.
From that point forward, I resolved to make sure that all future payments would be on time and in full. This resolve is reflected in the fact that, for the following five years, all the statements sent to me by the Los Angeles Department of Child Support Services showed me as either current or ahead in my payment responsibilities. I have these statements. They've been submitted as an exhibit for my current hearing before the Los Angeles Family court.
Imagine my dismay when on July 12th, I was informed that my account had been audited and I had been found to owe over $4,000 in principle and interest on my child and spousal support. How could this be? Hadn't the vast majority of the statements from the LA DCSS indicated that I was either ahead or current in my obligations?
It is a funny coincidence that this audit occurred at the same time I was beginning to find my voice to complain about the living hell that the LA DCSS had put me through. This conflict began in October, 2012 when I took exception to the wage assignment and health insurance obligation the LA DCSS sought to impose upon me. Finally, the case officer overseeing my case, RaeLynn Block, relented and agreed that neither a wage assignment nor a health insurance imposition were valid given my financial situation and consistent history of payments.
Regardless of Ms. Block's findings, I had to appear at two separate hearings to have these findings affirmed and an Order After Hearing was filed in both of these instances. Basically, I won twice.
On the day after the 2nd hearing, in a maddening twist of timing, I received a letter from the CA Department of Motor Vehicles. It contained a Notice of Intent to Suspend my driver's license. Again, how could this be? All the statements reflect that I am current in my payments of child support. It seems that because of the DCSS' inability to properly apply payments in a timely manner, my account was flagged as delinquent. Fortunately, by contacting the DCSS I was able to rectify this situation. My driving privileges are no longer in jeopardy and are now in good standing.
All of the statements from the LA DCSS include very prominent forms to use to lodge complaints. Well, the first stop on this complaint train is at the ombudsman's office. While commendable in theory, it's a fairly useless agency. My experiences indicate that they provide little more than administrative cover for the unreasonable policies of the LA DCSS.
Fortunately, there is an appeals level above the ombudsman's office. At this point, a complaint gets heard by an Administrative Law Judge and a final decision is rendered. Unfortunately, this judge ruled that the LA DCSS acted properly and within the parameters of the law. This finding was more of a condemnation of the law than a vindication of how the DCSS conducts itself. I find the threatened seizure of my driver's license to be extreme and out of proportion with the situation.
Regardless of how the ALJ ruled, it would seem that this complaint of mine somehow triggered an audit to be conducted by the Los Angeles DCSS. As I said earlier, this audit alleged that I owed over $4,000. This stood in stark contrast to all written communications that I have had from the LA DCSS in the last 5 years. I relied on their monthly statements in paying my child support. At the time, if I had known the accurate principle amount, I would have paid it. What is even more astonishing to me is that I'm expected to pay interest on a bill that I never received. As you've probably gathered this situation has driven me to extreme angst and frustration.
My hopes were held on the micro-thin silver lining of a hearing to be held on 9/18/13. At this hearing I would be afforded the opportunity to present my case that most or all of the arrearages were unfair and unreasonable. Well, that opportunity was never given to me. With a total of 44 cases on the docket for that day, I was not given any more than 5-10 minutes to present my case. I took exception to this, as I had prepared declarations and exhibits to present to the court. In order to accommodate my right to present my side of the case, the judge set another hearing for Friday November 15th. The judge made no secret of his sympathies towards the DCSS's position in this case. While I intend to present my case with strength and vigor, I feel that persuading the judge to rule in my favor will be a challenge.
So that's where we stand. I am left with no resolution, but many questions. The primary question being this: How can the LA DCSS fail in their fiduciary responsibilities by misrepresenting how much is actually owed on my child support account for an entire 5 years? Also, a related question has to do with the nature of the audit. What set it off? And why now? Why after 5 years was the audit done now? What was the motivation? I think that I am entitled to answers to these questions.
Now, the above relates to my individual case; this is my personal fight. My experiences during this audit allow me to look at the larger picture. I'm wondering how many other non-custodial parents are going through situations like my own, or worse. Throughout the 12 years since my divorce, and dealings with the LA DCSS and the rest of the Family Court Industrial Complex, I've come to feel like a third class citizen. For me, this has gone beyond just my case, it has become a cause.
Above, I posed the question of how many other Non-Custodial Parents are encountering problems similar to my own. If my experiences are any indication of what other NCPs are going through, then changes are in order. NCPs have been subjected to procedures that are arbitrary, unfair, and wrong.
It is easy to get discouraged as I contemplate the fight before me. The family courts and the related bureaucracies seem completely intractable. As hopeless as this situation seems, there are small rays of optimism and possibility. This hope takes the form of our elected officials, news media, and organizations like National Parents Organization who can serve as paths for seeking justice on NCP issues.
National Parents Organization is a Shared Parenting Organization
National Parents Organization is a non-profit that educates the public, families, educators, and legislators about the importance of shared parenting and how it can reduce conflict in children, parents, and extended families. Along with Shared Parenting we advocate for fair Child Support and Alimony Legislation. Want to get involved? Here’s how:
Together, we can drive home the family, child development, social and national benefits of shared parenting, and fair child support and alimony. Thank you for your activism.