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For many poor non-custodial parents in California, there is a difficult choice to make each month. They must decide whether to pay for their rent and food costs or make court ordered child support payments. If they don't choose the child support payments, they could face penalties such as jail time, fines and wage garnishments. In addition, they may find it difficult to see their kids if they do not pay the required child support.

California, along with many other states, has an agency that enforces child support orders. This agency is charged with finding non-paying parents and taking action to collect child support. Often enforcement actions include wage garnishment and even the withholding of a tax refund. In the case of a wage garnishment, the amount withheld can be as high as 65 percent of a person's income.

The choice of which bill to pay is most difficult for parents, often fathers, who are among the lowest wage earners. As many as 2.5 million people find themselves in just this situation. Many of those earn only $6,000 per year. From this amount, they are often ordered to pay 20 to 35 percent of their gross income in child support payments.

Advocates for changing the way that child support is calculated have suggested alternatives to forcing a non-custodial parent to pay more than they can afford. These changes include court review of all aspects of the finances of a non-custodial parent. However, for now, a non-custodial parent must work to make the ordered child support payments or face enforcement consequences. The law does permit a court application to modify an existing child support order where there has been a substantial change in circumstances that can be documented.

Source: thecalifornian.com, "Child support tug of war/ Con," Gheni Platenburg, July 7, 2012

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