Frequently Asked Questions

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  • Who do I contact if I know the location of a non-paying parent?

    If you know where a non-paying parent is living, you may be able to submit information anonymously through your state’s child support website or through the Department of Health and Human Services Office of Inspector General’s website.

  • What is the role of the federal Office of Child Support Enforcement?

    The federal Office of Child Support Enforcement (OCSE) works with states, tribes, local offices, employers, nonprofit groups, other federal offices, and other governments to secure financial support for children.

    The role of OCSE is to:

    • Help state and tribal child support programs follow federal law
    • Provide technical assistance and training in using tools to
      • Locate parents
      • Establish parentage
      • Set child support orders
      • Collect payments
    • Assess how well states and tribes are processing cases and collecting payments
    • Answer public inquiries
    • Provide outreach materials for parents, child support professionals, and employers
    • Gather and share information about promising practices in child support
    • Fund grant opportunities for research in program improvement
    • Serve as the central authority for international child support cases

    States have varying guidelines on some aspects of child support, but federal law outlines certain standards for all states, like mandatory medical support for children and income withholding for noncustodial parents.

    OCSE does not have direct access to case information and it does not collect payments directly from parents.

    Learn more about OCSE.

     

  • How can I get help with parenting time or enforcing visitation so I can see my children?

    States administer the Access and Visitation Program to help noncustodial parents see their children. Services vary by state, but may include mediation, counseling, education, development of parenting plans, supervised visitation, safe exchange services, and development of guidelines for visitation and alternative custody arrangements. In addition to the Access and Visitation Program, many states and local governments have resources and procedures for helping parents with parenting time.

    Check with the Access and Visitation Program contact in your state for more information.

  • How do I apply for child support services?

    You can apply through your local, state or tribal child support agency.

    Usually, applying to your local child support office is most convenient, but you can apply at another location if you prefer. The telephone numbers for state and tribal child support agencies are listed on the child support contact map.  The state agency will refer you to the appropriate local child support office where you can apply for child support services.

  • How is the amount of my child support order set?

    All states have official child support guidelines. The guidelines are used to calculate how much a parent should contribute to financially support his or her child. State agencies and courts must use the guidelines unless they are shown to be inappropriate in a particular case.

    Most state guidelines consider, at a minimum, the needs of the child, other dependents, and the ability of the parents to pay. Federal law requires every child support order to address how parents will provide for their child’s health care needs. To learn more about medical support, take a look at the Child Support Handbook.

    Some states use an income-shares model, which means the guidelines are based on the total income of both parents.  Other states use a percentage model that calculates the child support amount only on the income of the noncustodial parent.  The percentage model assumes that the custodial parent is contributing toward the child’s needs by providing care, food, clothing, and shelter.

    Visit the Intergovernmental Reference Guide, select your state on the map, and look under “Support Details” to find information about child support guidelines in your state. The Child Support Handbook also has information on guidelines and establishing a child support order.

  • Is there a limit to the amount of money that can be taken from my paycheck for child support?

    Yes. The amount that can be withheld from your wages is limited by the Federal Consumer Credit Protection Act.

    Here are the limits:

    • 50 percent of disposable income if an obligated parent has a second family
    • 60 percent if there is no second family

    These limits are each increased by 5 percent (to 55% and 65%) if payments are in arrears (past-due) for a period equal to 12 weeks or more. State law may further limit the amount that can be taken from your paycheck.

    Visit the Intergovernmental Reference Guide, select your state on the map, and look under “Income Withholding” to find information about your state’s income withholding limits and procedures.

  • If either parent loses a job or is earning more money, will child support automatically be changed?

    No, the child support amount will not change automatically; however, either parent can request a review and adjustment of their child support order.  A child support obligation must be reviewed, and adjusted if appropriate, at least every 36 months, or sooner if there has been a substantial change in circumstances such as reduced income of the obligated parent.

    Check with your caseworker to see if your child support obligation is in line with state guidelines, and ask how to request a review.

    Some courts and child support offices partner with employment programs and other agencies to provide employment services to noncustodial parents who are struggling to make ends meet and support their children.  Again, contact your local child support office.

    To contact your local office, click on your state on the child support contact map to find your state or tribal website.  Your state or tribal website provides contact information for your local child support office.

  • What is income withholding?

    Income withholding is a process that deducts child support payments automatically from the noncustodial parent’s paycheck, like taxes. When a child support order is established, the child support agency sends an income withholding notice to the noncustodial parent’s employer. The notice explains how often and how much to withhold. The employer withholds the child support payment and sends it to the child support agency. The child support agency records the payment and sends the money to the custodial parent.

    Since January 1994, child support orders require income withholding unless both parents and the courts agree on another payment method.

  • My income has changed, can my order be revised?

    Either parent may ask for a review of the order to make sure it is still accurate. Child support offices will review a child support order at least every three years, or when there is a significant change of circumstances, if either parent requests such a review. Some states have a procedure for an automatic update.

    Ask your caseworker for information about reviewing and, if appropriate, modifying your child support order. As part of the review, the caseworker will verify the current income of the noncustodial parent. States can adjust a child support order up or down according to child support guidelines, a cost of living adjustment, or automated methods determined by the state.

    Contact your local child support office for more information.

  • When the noncustodial parent is not paying, who can help me collect money?

    Your child support office will enforce an order. Contact your tribal or state agency to find out what methods are available.

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