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How to Get Child Support

Information for Families

Published: March 5, 2013
Information About:
State/Local Child Support Agencies, Families
Case Management, Order Establishment, Family Services & Referrals

What does the child support program do?

The child support program is a federal/state/tribal/local effort to locate parents, their employers, and their assets; establish paternity if necessary; and establish and enforce child support orders.

What are the roles of the state and federal child support programs?

State, tribal and local child support offices provide day to day operation of the program. They manage the child support caseload. The federal role is to provide funding, issue policy, ensure that federal requirements are met, and interact with other federal agencies that help support the child support program. The federal program does not process child support cases.  Contact your state or local child support agency for information about your case.

How and where do I apply?

The state or county Social Services Department, Attorney General's Office, or Department of Revenue manage the child support program at the local level.

You can find a listing of state and tribal child support agencies on our website.

Call your child support office to learn how to apply for services and what documents (birth certificates, financial statements, etc.) you should provide.  The Child Support Handbook has additional information for families.

What are the steps to collect child support?

If you were not married when your child was born, the first step is to establish paternity - legally determining the father of the child. Many men will voluntarily acknowledge paternity. Either parent can request a blood test in contested paternity cases. Your caseworker will help you establish paternity for your child.

The next step is to establish the obligation. State guidelines determine the fair amount of child support that the noncustodial parent should pay. Your child support office will be able to tell you how support amounts are set in your state. Your child support office can also request medical support for your child.

The last step is to enforce the child support order. The child support office can help collect the money no matter where the noncustodial parent lives.

At any of these steps, the child support office may need to know where the noncustodial parent lives or where he or she works. When a parent's whereabouts are not known, it is usually possible for the child support office to find him or her with the help of state agencies, such as the Department of Motor Vehicles, or the Federal Parent Locator Service. Your caseworker can tell you what information is needed to find an absent parent or the employer.

The most successful way to collect child support is by direct withholding from the obligated parent's paycheck. Most child support orders require the employer to withhold the money that is ordered for child support, and send it to the state child support office. Your child support office can tell you about this procedure.

Federal and State Income Tax refunds may be withheld to collect unpaid child support. States also have laws that allow them to use: liens on real and personal property; orders to withhold and deliver property; or seizure and sale of property with the proceeds applied to the support debt. Many states routinely report child support debts to credit bureaus, which would affect the noncustodial parent's credit.