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



The most difficult child support cases to pursue are those in which the parent obligated to pay child support lives in one State and the child and custodial parent live in another. However, all States are required to pursue child support enforcement, including location, paternity establishment, and establishment of support obligations, as vigorously for children who live outside their borders as for those under their own jurisdiction.

State enforcement agencies must cooperate with each other in handling requests for assistance, however, it has not been a simple matter for one State to automatically enforce the court orders of another State. Until recently, States used all or parts of a law called the Uniform Reciprocal Enforcement of Support Act (URESA).

With the enactment of the Full Faith and Credit For Child Support Orders Act and the Federal mandate that all States enact the Uniform Interstate Family Support Act (UIFSA) by January 1, 1998, interstate enforcement of child support obligations should improve. UIFSA includes a provision designed to ensure that, when more than one State is involved, there is only one valid child support order which can be enforced for current support, and a provision which allows a State to work a case against an out-of-State obligor directly if certain conditions are met.

Both URESA and UIFSA have procedures under which an enforcement official (or private attorney) can refer a case for action in another State. The laws can be used to establish paternity and to establish, modify, or enforce a support order. A URESA State is able to refer a case to a UIFSA State, and vice versa.

Interstate wage withholding can be used to enforce a support order in another State if the noncustodial parent’s employer is known. With interstate wage withholding, the Child Support Enforcement (CSE) office in the State where the noncustodial parent lives will make sure that a wage withholding order from another State contains all the information required by their State laws and will forward it to the noncustodial parent’s employer. The order does not have to go through the courts as it would with an interstate child support enforcement petition. State laws vary and you will need to ask your caseworker whether this option is available in your case.

State CSE Agencies all have an office called the Central Registry to receive incoming interstate child support cases, make sure that the information given is complete, send them to the right local office and respond to inquiries from out of State CSE offices. Standard forms make it easier for caseworkers to find the information they need to enforce a case, and to be sure they are supplying enough information for another State to enforce their case.

I know the address of my children’s father in another State, and my caseworker sent a petition to establish my support order there. That was three months ago, and still no support payments. What’s wrong?

It may be any number of things: enforcement officials may not be able to serve notice on the noncustodial parent due to inadequate address information; if a hearing is necessary, it may take a while to get a court date. Continue to keep in touch with your caseworker to resolve any delay or to provide any new information you may have.

I need to establish paternity for my child, and the father lives in another part of the country. How does this work?

The fact that you and the alleged father live in different States will not keep you from pursuing a paternity establishment action. Your State may be able to claim jurisdiction and establish paternity if the alleged father had lived there or the child was conceived in your State. Otherwise your State can petition the other State to establish paternity under their laws. Often, genetic tests will be ordered to help prove paternity. Ask your caseworker for specific information about the laws in your State and the State where the other parent lives.

My caseworker filed a URESA petition for paternity. The father denied it, and the other court just dismissed the case. What went wrong?

A responding State’s CSE office should not dismiss a case without asking for the information it needs. The initiating State is required to provide that information in 30 days. Either party in a contested paternity action can request blood or genetic testing. Ask your caseworker to reopen the case. You have the right to establish paternity until your child’s 18th birthday.

If paternity is established in another state, will the support order also be entered in that State?

Yes. Ask your caseworker how this is done.

I have had to wait several months for my enforcement agency to get a reply to its request for location assistance in another State. Why does it take so long to get an answer?

Even though they try to be responsive, enforcement agencies have a very high demand for their services. A State’s ability to act rapidly depends on the characteristics of the case, the quality of information received, and the amount of staff and other resources they have to devote to it. Be sure to follow up regularly with your caseworker to make sure that each State is actively working your case.

As soon as the children’s father is notified about enforcement, he moves. How will I ever be able to collect my support?

Many custodial parents are angry when, after the noncustodial parent is finally located and served notice of the enforcement action, he or she moves on. It is difficult to enforce child support payments when the noncustodial parent intentionally moves to avoid paying. Try to be an active participant in your own case. Whenever you learn that the noncustodial parent has moved or has a new job, you should tell your caseworker as soon as possible. Starting October 1997, all States are required to have a State Directory of New Hires, and employers will be required to report hiring new employees within 20 days. The information will, in turn, be sent to a National Directory of New Hires. This will help in locating the noncustodial parent if he/she moves on to a new job.

Isn’t there a law now that makes it a Federal crime to not pay child support if the child lives in another State?

The Child Support Recovery Act of 1992 makes it a Federal crime to willfully fail to pay support for a child living in another State.

Briefly, in order to prosecute under this Act, the United States Attorney’s Office must prove that the noncustodial parent was financially able to meet his/her obligation at the time the payment was due. If support arrearages are more than $5,000 or are unpaid for longer than one year, the noncustodial parent is subject to punishment. A major consideration in screening a case for Federal prosecution is whether all reasonably available civil and State criminal remedies have been pursued first. Next, priority is given to cases: (1) where there is a pattern of moving from State to State to avoid payment; (2) where there is a pattern of deception (e.g., use of false name or social security number); (3) where there is failure to make support payments after being held in contempt of court; and (4) where failure to make support payments is connected to some other Federal offense such as bankruptcy fraud.

My former wife lives in another State. She owns an expensive car, jewelry, and several pieces of property. Would the CSE Program be able to attach this property for child support?

An interstate CSE action may be filed on your behalf to enforce your child support order. Before requesting the other State to attach this property, your enforcement worker or lawyer should see if a “withhold and deliver” or “attachment” of the property could be successfully carried out from your State.

Will location and enforcement services cost more if my agency is dealing with another State? I am not receiving cash assistance.

Possibly. It depends on what the CSE office has to do to find the noncustodial parent and to establish regular payment. The more solid information and leads you provide, the more efficiently your case can be conducted. For non-assistance cases, States vary in the fees they charge for services. Your caseworker should be able to tell you more about these costs in your particular case.

I don’t have a support order. Can I have one established by petitioning the court where my ex-husband lives?

Yes. This can also be done by your CSE office. Depending on the facts, it could be handled in your State or referred to another State under URESA or UIFSA. An affidavit of the facts, including the name and address of the responsible parent, details of your financial circumstances, and the needs of the child will be included. The petition will be mailed to the enforcement agency, the court, or the interstate official where the father lives. The responding State will review this information together with information about the father’s ability to pay, and set the amount to be paid.

The father of my child has left the United States. How can I get my court order for child support enforced?

We suggest you check with your local CSE office and State CSE agency (at the address listed in the back of this Handbook). Many State CSE agencies have agreements with foreign countries to recognize child support judgments made in other countries, or to help establish orders when there is none. The U.S. Government is in the process of negotiating federal-level reciprocity declarations with other countries on behalf of all U.S. jurisdictions. These international child support agreements specify procedures for establishing and enforcing child support orders across borders. While requirements for getting enforcement action may vary depending on the other nation involved, a parent will be asked to provide the same information as in a domestic case, including as much specific information, such as address and employer of the noncustodial parent, as is possible.

If the noncustodial parent works for an American company, or for a foreign company with offices in the United States, wage withholding might work even if the country he lives in does not have any agreement to enforce an American State’s order. Even in cases where the noncustodial parent is living and working in a country that has no reciprocity agreement, approaching the foreign employer directly for help might prove successful.

I checked with the CSE office, but my daughter’s father lives in a country that has no agreement with any State to enforce child support obligations. Is there anything else to try?

The Office of Citizens Consular Services may be able to give you information about how to have the support order enforced in that country and how to obtain a list of attorneys there. That address is: Department of State, Office of Citizens Consular Services, Washington, D.C. 20520.

She is still in this country, but I understand that my children’s mother is planning to live abroad with her new husband. She owes me $14,000 in child support. Is there anything the CSE Office can do?

Under the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996 (PRWORA) legislation, State CSE Agencies can certify child support arrearages of more than $5000 to the Secretary of Health and Human Services, who, in turn, will transmit the certification to the Secretary of State for denial, revocation or limitation of passports. This becomes effective October 1, 1997.

See also…

Law Wiki: Child support enforcement offices

Law Wiki: Child support help

Child Custody and Support – Forum