August is Child Support Awareness Month, a national campaign aimed to spread awareness about child support services. Sacramento County Department of Child Support Services (DCSS) takes this time to celebrate the thousands of families and children they serve and acknowledge parents as they make a positive impact in the health and financial well-being of their children. Here are personal stories from two Sacramento County families who graciously agreed to share their experience with child support services.
Meet Laurie and Alayne
Laurie met K., Alayne’s father, in Switzerland working on a theatrical production. K. worked backstage painting sets and Laurie acted in one of the plays. After maintaining a long-distance relationship for about one year, K. moved to be with Laurie in Fair Oaks. The couple married after Laurie became pregnant with their daughter Alayne.
“It’s hard for any relationship to work but with different cultural backgrounds and experiences, we struggled to continue together,” said Laurie. When their marriage ended, K. was ordered to pay child support. At the time, K. was in the United States on a visa, but when his visa expired, he had to move out of the country. From 2003-2006, Laurie and Alayne lived in Texas. Laurie filed for child support while K was still residing in California, but once he left the country, Texas closed the case.
When Alayne was 15, she expressed her feelings about the child support situation and asked Laurie to open a case. Laurie recalls that it was not easy because it can take you to a space which is vulnerable and dark. Instead, Laurie tried to keep the focus on who this was about.
When the Hague Convention of 23 November 2007 (on the International Recovery of Child Support and Other Forms of Family Maintenance) became effective for the United States in 2017, DCSS began working on an application for assistance from Germany pursuant to the newly effective law. Laurie’s case was one of the first cases sent abroad pursuant to the child support Hague Convention. Germany began sending regular payments almost immediately.
Alayne, who is 18 years old, recently graduated high school where she played golf, swam competitively and participated in the Fair Oaks Youth Advisory council and the Sacramento Unified Advisory Council. Alayne has a great sense of humor, a flair for fashion and many friends. She also loves to perform in plays, just like her mom. She has applied to study abroad in Germany.
On her college application, Alayne expressed her desire to become a Public Defender in California, so she can provide representation for people who do not have the ability to pay thousands for a lawyer. “Before I start law school I want to be able to learn as much as I can about the world and discover as many new ideas as possible,” said Alayne. Laurie reflects, “What I do know is that whatever she does it will be done well.”
Meet Alec and Angelina
“My daughter, Angelina, was born in Fresno in 2006 when I was 17 years old,” says Alec. “It was tough being a father at seventeen and receiving full custody at eighteen. I couldn’t keep doing my normal, everyday teenage stuff. It wasn’t all fun and games anymore. I had another person depending on me because she couldn’t depend on herself. I was extremely selfish and self-centered. It was a big adjustment for me to make, putting someone else first,” says Alec. To become a full-time teenage dad, Alec gave up time with friends, romantic interests and other activities he enjoyed, like sports and video games.
When Angelina was 18 months old, Alec received full physical and legal custody after A., Angelina’s mother, failed to show up for the court hearing. A. then moved to southern California and Alec lost touch with her for an extended period before re-establishing communication years later.
Alec has had a child support case since 2006, originally in Madera County with an order set at $0.00 per month. “I began to hang out with a new group of friends that I had met through a new significant other and quickly fell back into my old ways of selfishness, questionable decisions and behaviors,” said Alec.
In 2007, Alec and Angelina moved to Sacramento where his mother and two older brothers lived to be in a more nurturing atmosphere, DCSS took over management of his case.
Alec did not pursue a monetary child support order against A. for years. “I knew Angelina’s mother wasn’t working or was working sporadically.” After attending “Daddy’s Here,” a men’s support group at The Center for Father’s and Families, Alec was encouraged by one of the fathers who explained that “seeking support was taking care of his child.” The father in the support group made it clear to Alec that both parents have an obligation to provide for their child, regardless if one of them is not actively involved in the child’s life.
Angelina has remained with Alec and is now 13 years old, she is an honor roll student in the seventh grade and has taken ballet, gymnastics, hip-hop dance and piano lessons. Angelina loves to play computer games, X-Box and loves to draw, sketch, paint and create special-effects makeup. Her love of scary movies and zombie shows inspired her dream to become a special-effects makeup artist in Hollywood. Her goal is to graduate from the Cinema Makeup School in Los Angeles, appear on and win the special effects show Face Off, and have her work featured in television and cinema.
Q&A with Laurie and Alec on DCSS
Have you visited the DCSS office? If yes, how did it feel walking in? What was your first impression?
- I was impressed with the waiting room because it was spacious, colorful, and light-filled which helped alleviate any negative feelings. I remember a lovely place for children to play. The individual offices were sparse but not utilitarian. I was grateful to be in an office, which didn’t feel oppressive and in addition to the space, the staff were all amazing and very well-trained. I work as a facilitator and certify trainers as well. Those who helped me really understood customer service, empathy and listening. - Laurie
- I’ve visited the DCSS office several times. The first time I walked in, it felt great because the air was on and it was about 100 degrees outside. I was so surprised how big the office was. It hadn’t dawned on me how big an agency DCSS was since my only point of reference was the government buildings in Madera County, where the offices aren’t so big. – Alec
What have been the challenges with DCSS?
- Once my case was filed in 2015, it took a few months before things started to happen, but this was not a fault of the office rather it had to do with the complications of our case with the other parent residing abroad. – Laurie
- My frustration primarily lies with A., rather than DCSS. A. either could not be located or was not working and unable to make payments. The small amount of money per month awarded is very disheartening. Every little bit helps of course, but I assumed the amount received would be higher. – Alec
How has DCSS been there for you?
- Child Support cases by nature are difficult for many families but with extra-added factors of interstate or international they become even more so. DCSS really persevered for my daughter and without them I don’t know how we could have managed the last four years. They relieved my burden of trying to track down when and if a payment would be sent. Hard work, tenacity, creativity and a great deal of time went into my daughter’s case. I give a big shout out to the entire team and in particular Jessica Foster, a Child Support Attorney with DCSS. – Laurie
- DCSS has been quick and prompt to provide me with information regarding my case, resources and making sure I understand the processes, policies and procedures of child support. As a result of Jill Lucena-Machado, a Community Engagement Coordinator with DCSS, coming to our “Daddy’s Here” workshop over the last several years, I’ve been given insight as to how the process works. Jill helped me to realize that I could and should file to modify my support order even if I didn’t know whether the other parent was working. Prior to her coming to our workshops, I was of the mindset that it wouldn’t matter and that it would be a waste of time if the other parent wasn’t employed. Jill helped me understand that even though the other parent may not be working, I could file, the court could still order support, and DCSS would enforce the order. – Alec
What advice do you have for other custodial parents?
- Remember who this is always about - we are here to advocate for our children and to make sure they have their needs met. Sometimes you want to give up and I have heard many stories of those who were in difficult situations with support and did just that. But don’t, our kids need to see us fighting for them no matter what the outcome. My daughter was right – she deserved child support. – Laurie
- Communication is key. Stay in communication with your local child support agency. File your support order as soon as you can. Don’t wait like I did. Don’t assume that just because the other parent isn’t working, as far as you know, that it’s not worth your time to file. Don’t feel bad or ashamed about filing or accepting child support from the other parent. It is the other parent’s obligation to help support that child too. –Alec
- When you begin the journey of parenting, it can be daunting, but it truly does take a village. Child Support Services is part of the village and for that I am extremely grateful. – Laurie
- Being a young man and asking for support did play a role in my not pursuing child support for as long as I did. There is societal pressure for men to be the providers and not ask for help, and assumptions that if they do, they are looked down upon, made fun of, or made to feel guilty for accepting support to help them raise their children. – Alec
To apply for services or learn more about the Sacramento County Department of Child Support Services, visit their website or call 866-901-3212.
Contact Info: Andrea Sandoval, Sacramento County Communication and Media, 916-591-9730