Parents Behind in Child Support Offered Amnesty

Times Staff Writer

When the two-month amnesty program for parents who are delinquent on child support payments ended last August, the Orange County district attorney's office had managed to collect only $11,000 from the delinquent accounts.

Now, Orange County is going to try again, along with 10 other counties. This time, Deputy Dist. Atty. Bruce M. Patterson is convinced that the program will be more successful.

The amnesty will begin July 1 and run through the end of August. But those delinquent in child support payments will be informed about it this week--to coincide, of course, with Father's Day, since the majority of those who make child support payments are fathers.

Delinquent parents who make their back payments during July and August will be given amnesty from either civil or criminal prosecution based on complaints already filed against them. They will also be free from having liens placed against them or having their state tax refunds affected.

Those who can make at least a partial payment will get a recommendation of leniency from the district attorney's office when they go to court for back payment charges.

But those who don't take advantage of the amnesty program might end up regretting it, according to Patterson.

"If they don't pay, then we're going to ask for jail time," said Patterson, director of the district attorney's family support division.

That could mean up to a year in the County Jail, he said. Usually the only people who end up in jail are the worst offenders. About 30 people are there now for nonsupport. But Patterson said his office will crack down on those who ignore the amnesty opportunity.

District attorney investigators plan an intense sweep of non-payment violators in the first few days after the amnesty program ends. A similar sweep last year resulted in arrest warrants being served on about 30 parents. But the number could be higher this year, Patterson said, because his office is going to borrow investigators from other departments within the district attorney's office to help out on the sweep.

$17 Million in Arrears

About 39,000 people in Orange County make some kind of child support payment. Figures were not available on how many of those are in arrears, but Patterson said it amounts to about $17 million.

"It's really a good program," Patterson said of the amnesty. "If you owe, now is the time to come forward so you can have the case against you dismissed."

Patterson predicted this amnesty would be more successful than last year because there has been more media exposure for it. Also, he said, this amnesty will be more lenient than last year's about letting parents come up with just partial payments.

"We're trying to get around that attitude of the feuding parents," he said. "The kids end up caught in the middle in that situation."

Alimony Not Included

The amnesty program, called Kids Deserve Better Support, is for child support payments only. Alimony payments are not included.

Counties participating beside Orange are Amador, Butte, Nevada, Placer, Riverside, Sacramento, San Joaquin, Santa Cruz, Sonoma and Yuba.

According to Gloria Allred, a Los Angeles attorney who helped promote the program, 99% of those parents who fail to meet their child support obligations are fathers.

Linda McMahon, state director of social services, said nearly $1.3 billion in delinquent child support is owed by almost 300,000 parents in California. She said one out of every seven children in California lives in a family that receives welfare payments, and many of those families are on welfare because they are not receiving required child support payments.

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