Helping Support Children

support_childrenThe mission of the Contra Costa County Department of Child Support Services (DCSS) is to promote the well-being of children and the self-sufficiency of families by delivering effective child support services to help meet the financial, medical and emotional needs of children.

DCSS, in performing its mission:

  • Establishes paternity—genetic testing is free.
  • Establishes child support orders.
  • Establishes health insurance orders.
  • Enforces child support, health insurance and spousal support orders.[1]

Our services are available to anyone who wants to have paternity for their child established, needs us to obtain and enforce child support and health insurance orders or to enforce an existing order. Our services are “almost” free. Depending on the type of case and the amount collected each year, there may be an annual $25 fee assessed to the custodial party; however, that is the sole cost for our services.


We have many enforcement tools in our tool chest. We enforce support orders via income withholding orders and health insurance orders via the National Medical Support Notice. For those cases where the obligor is not paying ordered support, or has arrears balances, we also use additional enforcement tools, including:

  • License suspensions, including professional licenses.
  • Credit reporting.
  • Passport denials.
  • Tax refund intercepts.
  • Real and personal property liens.
  • Levies on financial institution accounts, including 401(k) and retirement accounts.
  • Workers compensation liens.

Smith/Ostler Program

As of May 2013, DCSS began enforcing child and spousal support orders for additional support (commonly known as Smith/Ostler or Ostler/Smith orders). Since the inception of the Smith/Ostler program, DCSS has collected over $1.5 million in additional support for children and families.

We encourage you to refer your clients to our program. If there is a possibility your client will or may be opening a DCSS case for enforcement, when drafting your Smith/Ostler orders, please keep in mind some challenges we have in interpreting and enforcing these orders. Our biggest challenges include:

  • The order does not define what income is to be used to calculate the additional support. Are we to use all income earned? Only overtime income? Only bonus income? Only commissions? Any combination? The orders we see often only refer to a bonus table or an overtime table, which is defined by the support calculation program that was used and does not necessarily define what additional income is used to calculate the additional support.
  • The order does not specify the frequency of reporting additional income and when payment of the additional support is due. Please define if the reporting and payment is monthly, quarterly, semi-annually, annually, or some other frequency. Give us “teeth” to enforce compliance.
  • Attaching a table, chart or report to an order does not create an additional support order. Be sure to include the terms of the additional support order in the actual order.

The more specific you can be in drafting your order terms, the easier it will be for DCSS to enforce. If you have any questions or require assistance with drafting language for your orders, please contact us. See below for our “Attorneys Only Hotline” and Smith/Ostler Program contact information.

Frequently Asked Questions

We have an Attorneys Only Hotline set up for you and your staff to call an attorney at DCSS for questions about your client’s child support case. The following are the most frequently asked questions we receive on the Attorneys Only Hotline:

Do I need DCSS to sign off on a stipulation or judgment?

Yes. If DCSS is the petitioner/plaintiff or an intervenor in the action, the court requires that we approve the support provisions.

My client is the obligor with arrears and cannot get a passport; or has a passport, but is concerned about traveling. What can he/she do?

See 42 U.S.C. §652(k) for the statutory authority for the passport denial program. In short, there is very little we can do unless your client (a) pays arrears in full; (b) was added to the program erroneously, or (c) can certify a life and death situation.

I am unavailable to appear at a hearing. Can I get it continued?

It depends on whether all parties will agree. DCSS will not oppose a continuance, however, the other party must agree to it. Call us and we can assist with contacting the other party.

 The current support order is filed in another county’s superior court, but my client received a notice that Contra Costa DCSS is now managing the case. Does this mean that the legal action is now in Contra Costa Superior Court?

Not necessarily. The child support portion of another county’s legal action will change to Contra Costa only if we register it in Contra Costa Superior Court. If we have not registered it, you can continue to file motions in the other county. To confirm where to file your motion, give us a call.

The parties’ dissolution judgment orders the custodial parent to provide health insurance. Does DCSS need to get an order for the other parent to provide coverage?

Yes. We are required to obtain a health insurance order for the support obligor, even if coverage is being provided by the custodial parent. If the custodial parent is covering the minor child on his/her health insurance, we will not enforce the health insurance order against the support obligor unless the custodial parent no longer has insurance coverage available for the minor child.

We have a motion pending for a modification of custody, visitation and child support set in the trial department. Will the trial judge be able to decide the support modification issue?

Generally, no. The court currently resolves the non-support issues and then schedules the support issue for hearing in Department 52.

My client’s bank account was levied, but he/she has been paying current support and the court-ordered arrears payments. Why did this happen?

Obligors who owe arrears are required to be submitted to the Financial Institution Data Match System and the California DCSS will issue the appropriate levy, depending on whether the obligor is in compliance or not. Family Code §17453 explains the program and types of levies that may be issued. Call us for further assistance.

Contact Us

Our department prides itself on providing excellent customer service. We may not be able to resolve all issues because we are in the business of collecting support, but we are willing to work with you as you assist your clients in their legal matters. Please feel free to call on us at any time.

Contra Costa County Department of Child Support Services
50 Douglas Drive, Suite 100
Martinez, CA 94553

Attorneys Only Hotline:    925-957-2390
Attorneys Fax:                    925-335-3604

Smith/Ostler Program
Phone:          925-957-2332
Fax:                925-957-2332

Melinda R. Self is the Supervising Attorney for the Contra Costa County Department of Child Support Services. She has been in the child support enforcement program since October 2001. Prior to that, Melinda was a Certified Family Law Specialist in private practice in Lafayette.

[1] Spousal support orders are enforced so long as DCSS is enforcing a current child support order for any amount greater than $0.

Filed Under: Spotlight


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