Handbook on Child Support Enforcement

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS),
Administration for Children and Families (ACF),
Office of Child Support Enforcement (OCSE),
370 L’Enfant Promenade, S.W.,
Washington, D.C. 20447
OCSE website


To establish the paternity of a child, to obtain an order for support, and in most cases, to enforce that order, the CSE agency must know where the other parent lives or works. When a legal claim is made by one person against another, the defendant must be given notice of the legal action taken and the steps necessary to protect his or her rights. To notify the noncustodial parent in advance-either by certified mail or in person-child support enforcement officials need a correct address. If you do not have the address, the CSE office can try to find it. The most important information that you can provide to the child support office is the noncustodial parent’s social security number (SSN).

The Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996 (PRWORA) has given us an important new tool for locating parents who owe child support. It requires State and National Directories of newly hired employees. Employers will be required to report their employees within 20 days of their hiring to a State Directory of New Hires. The State Directory will report the information to a National Directory of New Hires provided by the Federal Office of Child Support Enforcement.

State CSE Agencies, with due process and security safeguards, have access to information from the following:

  • State and local government: 1) vital statistics, 2) state tax files, 3) real and titled personal, 4) property records, 5) occupational and professional licenses and business information, 6) employment security agency, 7) public assistance agency, 8) motor vehicle department, 9) law enforcement departments
  • Records of private entities like public utilities and cable television companies (such as names and addresses of individuals and their employers as they appear in customer records)
  • Information held by financial institutions, including asset and liability data.

I think the noncustodial parent is still in the area. What information will the enforcement office need to find him?

Most important is the SSN and an employer’s name and address; also helpful are the names, addresses and phone numbers of relatives, friends, or former employers who might know where he/she works or lives. Unions and local organizations, including professional organizations, might also have information.

What if I don’t have the SSN?

Social security numbers are now required on applications for professional licenses, commercial driver’s licenses and marriage licenses, on divorce records, support orders, paternity determinations or acknowledgements, and death records.

If none of these is available, or the SSN was not yet required when the document was issued, the CSE office can subpoena information about bank accounts, insurance policies, credit cards, payslips, or income tax returns. If you and the other parent filed a joint Federal income tax return in the last three years, the CSE office can get the social security number from the IRS. Your caseworker may be able to get the SSN with at least three of the following pieces of information: the parent’s name, place of birth, date of birth, his/her father’ name, and his/her mother’s maiden name.

What if the noncustodial parent cannot be found locally?

Your CSE office will ask the State Parent Locator Service (SPLS) to search. Using the social security number, the SPLS will check the records of State agencies such as motor vehicle registration, unemployment insurance, income tax, and correctional facilities. If the SPLS finds that the parent has moved to another State, it can ask the other State to search, or send a request to the Federal Parent Locator Service (FPLS).

What resources does the FPLS have?

The FPLS can search for addresses in the records of the Internal Revenue Service, the Department of Defense, the National Personnel Records Center, the Social Security Administration, the Department of Veterans Affairs, and State Employment Security Agencies. States will be reporting newly hired employees to a National Directory of New Hires, which, as of October 1, 1997, will be a part of the FPLS.

Can my lawyer or I ask the FPLS to find an address for the other parent?

Not directly. However, you or your attorney can submit a request to use the FPLS through the local or State CSE Agency.

Can State and Federal location efforts be made at the same time?

Yes. For instance, a search can be initiated by the State to another State and to the FPLS at the same time.

Can enforcement agencies use the Federal income tax return to find out where the noncustodial parent lives and what he or she earns?

Yes. Under certain conditions, the IRS, working through the State and Federal Child Support Enforcement Agencies, may disclose to the child support office information that income providers submit on IRS Form 1099. This information is a valuable tool to help find a noncustodial parent and determine his or her financial assets. The information may only be used for the purpose of enforcing child support payments.

Information available through Form 1099 includes both earned and unearned income, including wages, earnings on stocks and bonds, interest from bank accounts, unemployment compensation, capital gains, royalties and prizes, and employer and financial institution addresses. A number of very small businesses submit 1099 asset information to the IRS, so this can be a good source of information. Any information obtained from the IRS must be verified through a second source, such as an employer or bank, before the CSE agency can use it.

What will happen when the caseworker has the current address of the noncustodial parent?

The worker will verify the home and work addresses, then ask the noncustodial parent to come to the CSE office for an interview, or notify him/her that legal action may be taken.

The father of my child is in the military, but I don’t know where he is stationed. Can the enforcement agency find him?

Yes. The FPLS can provide the current duty station of a parent who is in any of the uniformed services.

See also…

Law Wiki: Child support enforcement offices

Law Wiki: Child support help

Child Custody and Support – Forum