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Frequently Asked Questions

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  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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 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.

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