Rein in Orange County Department of Child Support Services

By Ned Holstein, MD and Glenn Sacks

The paternity case involving Angels’ third baseman Alberto Callaspo is the second instance in the past month where Orange County Department of Child Support Services unjustly intervened in a paternity case. Fortunately, a bill currently before the California Senate Judiciary Committee will curb these types of abuses.

In the Callaspo case, the ballplayer was skeptical of ex–girlfriend Mariangely Santana Perez’s claims that her son Ian was his. Nevertheless, he paid her $4,000 a month and paid for the hearing–impaired boy’s hearing aids.

Enter OC DCSS. Perez previously told the Orange County Register she was satisfied with the amount she had agreed to with Callaspo, but had contacted OC DCSS because she sought a written agreement and to ensure Callaspo made the payments each month.

The federal government reimburses states for every dollar they collect in child support. However, there is no reimbursement when the father pays the money directly to the mother, as Callaspo did.

OC DCSS, eyeing a potential windfall award going through their office to Perez, intervened, seeking to almost triple Callapso’s monthly obligation. Faced with paying nearly $2 million over the life of the child support order, Callaspo contested paternity, and DNA tests showed that the boy is not his.

Callaspo’s escape was narrow. Many men receiving such petitions fail to respond in time because they don’t understand the legalese, don’t have legal representation, or do not receive the petition at their current address. In such cases, default judgments can be entered against them. Moreover, had Callaspo been married to Perez, or had he signed a paternity declaration at the hospital based on the mother’s false representations, the time period for him to have challenged paternity would have already run out.

OC DCSS’ actions in the recent Pedro Soto paternity fraud case are particularly egregious. In 1998, Soto, deceived by then–girlfriend Maricela Guerrero into believing that her newborn son Aaron was Soto’s, stepped up and did what he thought was right by signing a paternity declaration. In ensuing years he paid over $75,000 in child support, and had regular visitation with Aaron.

Later, Soto was shocked to learn that Aaron was not his biological child, and was living with Guerrero and the man he called “dad”– his biological father Francisco Serrano, who had another child with Guerrero. Soto’s attorney Richard A. Lowe explained in Soto’s petition:

“[B]y lying about the real father … Guerrero set up a scheme whereby she can fleece her innocent former boyfriend and have [OC DCSS] aid her in enforcing this … Aaron will always be welcomed in [Soto’s] home, however, he does not wish to continue the falsehood that he is Aaron’s biological father.”

OC DCSS conceded that Serrano, not Soto, is Aaron’s father, but still opposed Soto’s petition for relief, seeking to keep Soto — a man of modest economic means who is married with children – on the hook for another five years. Lowe conceded that, since the time to challenge paternity had run out, current California law is against Soto. Fortunately, in an admirable act of judicial courage, Orange County Superior Court Judge Paula J. Coleman ruled in Soto’s favor.

Most are not as fortunate as Soto and Callaspo, and there are many California men paying for children who are not theirs. Senator Rod Wright’s (D–Los Angeles) SB 375 will place some much–needed restraint on OC DCSS and its sister agencies. SB 375 widens the restrictive time limit for challenging paternity, so “duped dads” are not punished because they believed their exes’ false paternity claims.

Moreover, the bill will prevent judges from being coerced to, as the 2nd District Court of Appeal explained in the 2004 Navarro paternity case, “sully our hands by participating in an unjust, and factually unfounded, result.”