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Family law: What is the COAP program?

When California parents divorce, the court may award child custody to one parent and order the other parent to pay child support. Family law provides guidelines, according to which the amount of child support is calculated. If the noncustodial parent does not pay child support, or if the child is in foster care, the government may support the family and then hold that parent responsible for repayment of the support provided by the state.

A parent may apply for relief through the Compromise of Arrears Program (COAP), which can lower the past-due amount and allow that to be paid as a lump sum or in regular payments over a particular period. The reduced amount will be determined by the needs of the child or children and the ability of the noncustodial parent to pay. Each case is unique, and the amount to be paid will be in the state's best interest.

If a parent qualifies for COAP, certain rules will apply. If current child support payments are not maintained, the application may be denied, and it will disqualify the person from a repeat application for another year. Full disclosure of all information related to income and assets is necessary before an application can be finalized. To avoid a situation of becoming liable for the full amount again, no COAP payments can be missed, and the same goes for current child support payments. Failing even one payment can cause the agreement to be rescinded, making the parent immediately responsible for all past-due child support, and ineligible for reapplication for two years.

Any California parent who experienced financial hardship that prevented him or her from maintaining the court-ordered child support payments can consult with an experienced family law attorney. After assessing the circumstances, a lawyer can explain the possible options. He or she can evaluate the parent's chances of qualifying for COAP, and even help with the application process.

Source:, "Compromise of Arrears Program", Accessed on Sept. 22, 2017

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