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

Are you a parent-divorced, separated or never married-with children to support?

Do you need help to get a child support order?

Do you need help to collect child support payments from the parent who has an order to pay?

States must use proven enforcement tools on behalf of families who apply for child support enforcement services. The Child Support Enforcement (CSE) Program is run by State Human Services Departments, Attorney General’s Offices, or Departments of Revenue. To learn more about the program or to apply for child support services, call your local CSE office. Check the county listings in your telephone book to get the telephone number, or call or write the State CSE Agency. OCSE website

For the most part, child support enforcement problems are handled according to State and local laws and practices. States often can use administrative procedures or other legal processes for establishing and enforcing support orders more quickly than is usually possible with court proceedings.

Your State’s Child Support Enforcement Program is available to help you:

  • Find the noncustodial parent: Location
  • Establish legal fatherhood for children: Paternity
  • Establish the legal support order: Obligation
  • Collect child support payments: Enforcement

Problems such as property settlement, visitation and custody are not, by themselves, child support enforcement issues and the CSE Program generally cannot enforce court orders relating to them. Parents must deal with these issues through the courts or other systems set up by the State. Today, about 85 percent of custodial parents are women and 15 percent of custodial parents are men. As you go through this Handbook, remember that either parent may have been awarded primary custody by the court.

REMEMBER: The more you know about child support enforcement, the more you take an active role in getting information to your caseworker and asking questions about your case, the more success you will have in obtaining regular and full child support payments for your children.

The person you will be working with at your enforcement office may be called a caseworker, investigator, enforcement worker, collection specialist, or child support worker.

Who can get help?

Any parent or person with custody of a child who needs help to establish a child support or medical support order or to collect support payments can apply for child support enforcement services. People who have received assistance under cash assistance programs – Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC), or the new Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) (we will refer to these as “cash assistance” in this Handbook), or Medicaid or Federally-assisted Foster Care programs are automatically referred for child support enforcement services.

An unmarried father can apply for services to establish paternity-a legal relationship with his child.

A noncustodial parent whose case is not in the CSE Program can request services to make payments through the Program. Doing so can ensure that there is a record of payments made.

Where do I apply for help in obtaining child support?

Through your local child support enforcement (CSE) office. The number can be found in your telephone directory usually under the State/County social services agency.

Is there an application fee?

People receiving assistance under Medicaid, Foster Care, or cash assistance programs do not have to pay for CSE services. For all others, a fee of up to $25 is charged, although some States absorb all or part of the fee or collect payment from the noncustodial parent.

Are there any other costs?

Because child support agencies may recover all or part of the actual costs of their services from customers who are not in a public assistance program, there may be other costs to parents. These can include the cost of legal work done by agency attorneys and costs for locating a noncustodial parent. Such costs may be deducted from the child support before it is sent to you or may be collected from the noncustodial parent. Not all States recover the costs of their services. Your local CSE office can tell you about the practices in your State.

My State recovers costs from the custodial parent. How will I know how much will be deducted from my support checks?

Your caseworker should be able to estimate the costs involved in your case, and give you an idea of how much they will deduct from each check before sending it to you.

Will I receive the entire amount of support paid?

If you have not received cash assistance, you will receive the total child support payment (less any fees the State may collect). If you are receiving cash assistance, check with your State CSE Agency. Some States will give you the entire child support payment and reduce your assistance payment, others will keep the entire amount and not reduce the assistance payment. If you are not receiving cash assistance now but did in the past, if amounts are still owed to the State, any support collected beyond the amount ordered for current support may be used to reduce the arrearages owed.

Will there be an extra cost if the enforcement agency is dealing with the enforcement agency in another State?

There may be extra costs if more than one State is handling your case. Ask your caseworker to estimate these costs, if any.

Will the enforcement agency keep track of my child support payments to make sure they keep coming? I am not in a cash assistance program.

CSE offices are required to monitor payments to make sure they are made regularly and fully. But you should inform the agency if payments are late or in the wrong amount, or if you receive payments directly. When you monitor your case, you can keep the CSE office informed so that it can act quickly if needed.

I’m getting a divorce and my spouse wants me to pay child support directly to her. Can I insist on paying through the CSE office?

You should send your payment to whomever is specified in the child support order. Since January, 1994, support orders must include a provision for wage withholding unless both parents and the courts agree on another payment method. If your order does not call for wage withholding, you can request this service. If you do, you will have a record that you have made payments as required. If you are self-employed, you may be able to arrange for an automatic transfer of funds to the child support agency through electronic funds transfer. Either parent can apply for CSE services, which include receiving and distributing payments.

The noncustodial parent lives across the State. I cannot afford to take the time off from work or travel there for a child support hearing. How can I get enforcement of my child support?

Most local CSE offices handle enforcement in different jurisdictions in the same State without your having to travel outside your own jurisdiction. Ask your local CSE office for details about how enforcement would work in your case.

I am applying for cash assistance. Do I have to provide information about the father?

To be eligible for assistance, you must provide information to help to identify the father and collect child support from him. Any child support collected will be used to help support your children-going either directly to you or to repay the State for your assistance grant. Your State CSE Agency will explain how the child support will be used.

I am applying for cash assistance, but I am afraid that the father may hurt me or the children if I tell a caseworker who he is. What should I do?

Under some conditions, the CSE office may agree that there is “good cause” for not trying to collect support from the father. You can explain the situation to your caseworker and provide supporting information.

My children and I need money now. The noncustodial parent left us 10 years ago. Can the CSE office still take my case?

If you apply for services, the CSE office will try to find the noncustodial parent to establish or enforce a child support obligation. Be sure to give your caseworker all the information you have that might help find the parent.

If the CSE office can’t find the noncustodial parent, does that mean I can’t get cash assistance?

No. You can get cash assistance if you are trying to help find the noncustodial parent. Your State or local CSE Agency will tell you what information they will need you to provide in order to get assistance.

What does the child support enforcement agency need to know?

No matter where you start-establishing paternity, finding a noncustodial parent, establishing or enforcing a support order-the CSE office must have enough information to pursue your case. All information you provide will be treated in confidence. The more details you provide, the easier it will be to process your case and to collect child support payments for your children.

What documents do I need to bring to the enforcement agency?

The following information and documents will help the CSE office to locate the parent, establish paternity, and establish and/or enforce your child support order:

» information about the noncustodial parent

  • name, address and social security number
  • name and address of current or recent employer
  • names of friends and relatives, names of organizations to which he or she might belong
  • information about his or her income and assets – payslips,
  • tax returns, bank accounts, investments or property holdings physical description

» children’s birth certificates

» if paternity is an issue, written statements (letters or notes) in which the alleged father has said or implied that the child is his

» your child support order

» your divorce decree or separation agreement

» records of any child support received in the past

» information about your income and assets

You play a big role in getting the child support your children deserve.

I’m the noncustodial parent. I love my kids. I pay my child support. About half the time when I go to pick them up for my weekend, my ex-wife has made other plans for them. It’s not fair that the State will enforce my child support obligation but not do anything about my rights.

Although the CSE Program lacks authority to enforce visitation, many State or local governments have developed procedures for enforcing visitation orders. Also, a provision of the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996 (PRWORA) makes funding available to States for developing model programs to ensure that children will be able to have the continuing care and emotional support of both parents. Check with your CSE office to see what resources are available to you and to find out about laws which address custody and visitation.

See also…

Law Wiki: Child support enforcement offices

Law Wiki: Child support help

Child Custody and Support – Forum