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SAN MATEO’S JUDGES GET SPECIAL POWER OVER PARENTS San Mateo County judges will soon have the unique authority to force child support-paying parents to look for work � before they go into arrears. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed legislation last week giving San Mateo County three years to test a program that officials hope will boost child support collection rates. Starting Jan. 1, judges will be able to require a parent to seek work at the same time they issue a child support order. Currently, courts usually must wait for a parent to fall delinquent on payments before ordering him or her to show proof of actively looking for work. But that process can take months and leave children without needed financial support, said Iliana Rodriguez, San Mateo County’s director of child support services. “In the meantime the obligor has amassed an enormous debt and doesn’t see the light at the end of the tunnel and may wonder, ‘Why even bother?’” Rodriguez said. If a judge orders parents to seek employment early in the process, Rodriguez said, her agency can work to get them job training or other assistance. Support workers will also have an easier time keeping tabs on paying parents, who sometimes take jobs under the table to avoid earning documented income and who often move frequently, making them difficult to track down. “Many obligors see us here to serve the custodial parent, and that’s not the case,” Rodriguez said. “Our interest is what’s in the best interest of the child.” About 61 percent of the 19,000 San Mateo County children who are owed support receive it, according to the Department of Child Support Services. That’s better than the state collection rate of 54 percent, but Rodriguez and county supervisors hope the new rules will increase San Mateo’s support numbers even more. San Mateo County Superior Court officials, as is customary with pending legislation, did not take a position on SB 523. But county Supervisor Adrienne Tissier said she hasn’t heard any concerns about the program raised by judges or family law attorneys. “If you look at our family law judges and attorneys, their bottom line is the best interest of the children,” Tissier said. “That’s what we’re all interested in.” County officials will have to report to the Legislature by 2010 on how well the program is working. The pilot project is scheduled to end in 2011, though lawmakers could choose to extend it and possibly expand it to other counties.

Cheryl Miller

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