Frequently Asked Questions

38 Results:

  • How do I establish paternity and a child support order if my baby’s father and I belong to separate tribes?

    To establish paternity and child support, apply for services with either tribe or state. If neither tribe has a child support office, then apply in the state where you live.  The child support office will work with you to establish paternity and get a support order established. To find out if a tribe in your area has a tribal child support program, visit our contact map that lists all tribal child support programs by state.

  • How do I establish paternity and a child support order if I am a Native American and my baby’s father is in the military and stationed overseas?

    To establish paternity and child support, apply for services with your tribe or state. If your tribe does not have a child support program, then apply in the state where you live. Child support agencies work with the military to establish paternity and child support. To find out if a tribe in your area has a tribal child support program, visit our contact map that lists all tribal child support programs by state.

    The Handbook for Military Families is a helpful resource.

  • The noncustodial parent is not a Native American, but works on a Reservation. Will the employer withhold income from his or her paycheck to make the child support payment?

    If the tribe is operating a federally funded child support program, your caseworker should send the income withholding order to the tribal child support agency. The tribal child support agency will process the income withholding order and serve it on the tribal enterprise.

    If the tribe is not receiving federal funding to operate a child support program, your caseworker should contact the tribe's administrative office or tribal court to ask about their procedures for honoring an income withholding order.

    See our list of federally funded tribal child support agencies.

  • When is a child support case eligible for the Federal Tax Refund Offset Program?

    For cases in the child support program, the Federal Tax Refund Offset Program collects past-due support payments from the tax refunds of parents who owe support. The child support agency will submit your case to the Federal Tax Refund Offset Program if it meets either of these criteria:

    • The custodial parent receives benefits under the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program and the noncustodial parent owes at least $150 in arrears; or
    • The custodial parent does not receive Temporary Assistance for Needy Families benefits and the noncustodial parent owes at least $500 in arrears.

    If the parent who owes support does not receive a tax refund, then there are no funds to intercept.

    Check with your child support agency for more information.

  • How does the Federal Tax Refund Offset Program work?

    State child support agencies submit (certify), through OCSE to the Department of Treasury, the names, Social Security numbers, and amounts of past-due support of people who are behind in their payments.

    A noncustodial parent whose support debt meets the criteria for Federal Offset or Passport Denial will receive a Pre-Offset Notice that explains the process and shows the amount of past-due support owed at the time of the notice. The Pre-Offset Notice includes information about Federal Tax Refund Offset, Administrative Offset, Passport Denial, and actions the child support agency may take to enforce a support obligation. It also includes information about how to contest the debt amount.

    The actual amount that Treasury deducts from the tax refund may differ from the amount on the Pre-Offset Notice based on updated activity on the support obligation. The state updates the debt amount regularly, but may not issue a new notice each time the debt amount changes.

    When Treasury processes tax refunds, it identifies those who owe past-due support and intercepts all or part of the tax refund. Treasury forwards the intercepted or offset funds through OCSE to the state child support agency to pay the past-due support.

    At the time of the Federal Tax Refund Offset, Treasury’s Bureau of the Fiscal Service mails a Notice of Offset to the noncustodial parent stating that all or part of their federal tax refund has been intercepted because of the support debt. The notice explains to contact the local child support agency for further information.

    The state that submitted the case typically receives money from a tax refund offset within two to three weeks. If the tax refund offset is from a jointly filed tax return, the state may hold the money for up to six months before disbursing.

  • My child is no longer a minor. Will the state child support agency still submit my debt for Federal Tax Refund Offset?

    Yes.  Effective October 1, 2007, the Deficit Reduction Act of 2005 allows states to submit cases for debts regardless of the child's age.

  • As the noncustodial parent, what happens if I have remarried and part of the income tax refund belongs to my new spouse?

    Depending on state laws regarding community property, the IRS may intercept all or part of your or your spouse's share of the federal tax refund to pay your support debt.

    If you and your new spouse (called a non-obligated or "injured" spouse) file a joint income tax return, your spouse may be able to get back his or her share of the refund. To claim their portion of any refund due, your spouse may file an Injured Spouse Allocation of a Joint Return (Form 8379) with the IRS. The IRS encourages an injured spouse to file the claim at the same time the tax return is filed.

    Check with your child support agency for more information.

  • How does the Federal Tax Refund Offset Program handle interstate cases?

    Usually the state where the custodial parent lives submits the debt for Federal Tax Refund Offset. In cases where the noncustodial parent owes a support debt to more than one state, each state submits its case for offset. The noncustodial parent receives a separate notice for each state's debt, and has the right to contest each state's debt amount.

  • How does the Passport Denial Program work?

    The Passport Denial Program helps child support agencies enforce repayment of debts from noncustodial parents who owe or have owed at least $2,500 in past-due support. A noncustodial parent whose support debt meets the criteria for certification receives a Pre-Offset Notice that explains the process. This notice includes the amount of past-due support owed at the time of mailing and information about the Passport Denial Program, as well as information on the Federal Tax Refund and Administrative Offset programs.

    States submit case information of noncustodial parents who meet the criteria for passport denial to OCSE. When the past-due support exceeds $2,500, OCSE will automatically forward the noncustodial parent’s name to the State Department for passport denial unless the state requested that OCSE exclude the noncustodial parent from the Passport Denial Program.

    The noncustodial parent is not removed from the Passport Denial Program, even if their arrearages fall below the $2,500 threshold, until one of the following occurs:

    • The submitting state specifically requests removal
    • The noncustodial parent’s support debt amount is reduced to zero
    • The case is deleted

    When an individual applies for a passport, the State Department will deny the application based on the passport denial certification. The State Department will send a notice to the noncustodial parent explaining that the passport was denied because of past-due support. The notice informs the applicant to contact the appropriate state child support agency for more information.

  • What steps should I take if the State Department has denied my passport because of past-due support?

    You must contact your child support agency to make satisfactory arrangements to pay your past-due support. If more than one state reported your name to the Passport Denial Program, you must reach an agreement with all states involved before your passport hold is released.

    Once you have paid your past-due support in full or reached a satisfactory payment agreement, the state(s) will request that OCSE remove your name from the Passport Denial Program. After the State Department has processed the withdrawal request from OCSE and cleared its system, you may contact the National Passport Information Center at 1-877-487-2778 or make an appointment at a regional passport agency to complete the process.

    Check with your child support agency for more information.

  • 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.

  • How can I contact my local child support office?

    Select your state on the map for contact information.

  • How much do the child support services cost?

    Some agencies have an application fee, usually no more than $25. In some instances this fee can be waived. Check with your local tribal or state agency for details.

  • What is the status of my child support case?

    If you need to find out the status of your case or have a question about your case, contact your state or tribal child support agency.  The federal office of child support enforcement does not have direct access to case information.

  • I have a state case and my tribe recently started a child support program. Can I request the state transfer my case to the tribe?

    Yes, you may request that the state transfer your case to your tribal child support program.  If you received TANF benefits from the state and there are TANF arrears owed to the state, the tribe will work with the state to reimburse the TANF program.

  • How do I know if a tribe has a child support program?

    To find out if a tribe in your area has a tribal child support program, visit our contact map that lists all tribal child support programs by state.

  • How does a tribal child support program determine the amount of child support owed?

    Both state and tribal child support agencies are required to establish guidelines for determining payment amounts. The guidelines take into consideration the needs of the child and the income of at least the noncustodial parent.

    Tribal child support agencies have the flexibility to authorize in-kind, non-cash child support payments based on culture and tradition. These non-cash payments (assigned a monetary value) can be items such as firewood, salmon and deer meat or services such as childcare, repairs to a home, or other services approved by the tribe. Both parents must agree to the in-kind payments. In-kind payments follow guidelines established by the tribe.

  • Will a child support order entered in state court be recognized by a tribal child support program?

    Yes, tribes are required to recognize and enforce child support orders issued by state courts and other tribal courts.

  • If I have a tribal child support order and I am moving off of my reservation, will the state enforce my tribal child support order?

    Yes. The state will enforce a tribal order. State and tribal child support agencies are required to recognize and enforce the child support orders issued by the other jurisdiction.

    If the noncustodial parent still lives on the reservation, the tribe will continue to enforce the order. If the noncustodial parent moves off the reservation, the tribe may ask the state for assistance in enforcing the order. If the noncustodial parent met the obligation with in-kind payments and the state is helping to enforce the order, the noncustodial parent will now pay the order in cash rather than in-kind, non-cash payments.

  • How will my tribal child support order be enforced?

    Enforcement of a tribal child support order is very similar to enforcement of a state child support order. Income withholding is required when the arrears equals one month of support payments. Tribes have some traditional methods that have had success:  grandparent mediators and garnishing per capita payments or Individual Indian Money Accounts. The methods of enforcement are as varied as the tribal programs. Some tribes work with states to offset federal tax refunds and deny passports.

    Contact your tribe to determine how they will enforce your order.

  • How do I apply for tribal child support services?

    Contact your tribal child support agency to apply for services.  Each tribe will provide information about the documentation necessary to complete the application.

  • What documents do I need to bring to the child support office?

    Bring as much of the following information as possible. This will help the child support office locate the parent, establish paternity, and establish and 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 -- pay slips, tax returns, bank accounts, investments or property holdings
    • Physical description, or photograph, if possible
    • Birth certificates of children
    • If paternity is an issue, written statements (letters or notes) in which the alleged father has said or implied that he is the father of the child
    • Your child support order, divorce decree, or separation agreement if you have one
    • Records of any child support received in the past
    • Information about your income and assets
    • Information about expenses, such as your child’s health care, daycare, or special needs
  • Is there an application fee?

    People receiving assistance under Medicaid, Foster Care, or cash assistance programs do not have to pay for child support services. For all others, a fee of up to $35 is charged, although some states absorb all or part of the fee or collect payment from the noncustodial parent.

  • What does the child support program do?

    The child support program--a federal, state, tribal and local partnership--collects child support.

    Visit the About section of our website to learn more about program services. The Child Support Handbook is another resource for families to learn about our program.

  • What can I do to make sure my child support order amount is fair?

    The most important thing you can do is appear at the child support hearing. You will receive a notice about the hearing that will tell you where to go and what documents to bring. When both parents appear and bring the necessary documents, the agency or court will be able to make a fully informed and fair decision about the amount of the child support order.

  • Can I establish paternity even though the father of my child lives in another state?

    Yes, you can pursue a paternity establishment action even if your child’s father lives in another state. Your state may be able to claim jurisdiction and establish paternity if the father has lived in your state, the child was conceived in your state, or there is another basis for your state to have authority over the case.

    Otherwise your state can petition the jurisdiction in which your child’s father lives 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.

  • Will location and enforcement services cost more if my agency is dealing with another state or jurisdiction?

    Possibly.  It depends on what your child support agency has to do to find the noncustodial parent and establish regular payment. The more solid information and leads you provide, the more efficiently your case can be worked. Service fees vary by state depending on whether you are receiving cash assistance. Your caseworker should be able to tell you more about these costs.

    The Child Support Handbook has more information about fees.

  • How can I access payment information on my child support account?

    Contact your child support office for payment information. They can provide you with information about:

    • Making a child support payment (online, by phone, or in person)
    • Accessing payment history or payment records
    • Setting up recurring payments
    • Electronic payment options for making or receiving payments

    Some state websites allow you to access your payment information online; the federal website does not.

  • How can I file a complaint about my local child support office?

    Each state has a formal complaint process to address customer service issues.  Ask your state child support agency for help.  Take a look at our state child support contact map for contact information.  The state child support website can provide additional information about its specific process for filing a complaint.  Some states have complaint forms available online.

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