How to Get Child Support

Information for Families

Publication Date: September 9, 2014

What are the steps to collect child support?

Typically it begins by identifying the father, often called establishing paternity. Once we know who the father is, a child support order is established and the child support agency can begin collecting and enforcing the child support order.

  1. Establish Fatherhood

    If you were not married when your child was born, the first step is to - legally determining the father of the child. Many men will voluntarily acknowledge paternity.

    If a man is not certain that he is the father, the child support agency can arrange for genetic testing. These tests are simple to take and highly accurate. Either parent can request a blood test in contested paternity cases.

  2. Establish a Child Support Order

    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.

    Your child support office will be able to tell you how support amounts are set in your state and can request medical support for your child.

  3. Enforce the Child Support Order

    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.

    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.

There are several ways we collect and enforce child support:

How and where do I apply?

Contact your local child support office to apply for child support services. Your state may allow you to apply online.

Here are some things you might need to provide. Ask your local office for a complete list.

  • Information about the noncustodial parent
  • 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

See these resources for additional information:

  • Child Support Handbook: more information about finding the noncustodial parent, establishing a child support order, and collecting support
  • Glossary: defines a list of acronyms and other terms used by child support workers
  • 3 Steps to Applying for Child Support: at-a-glance infographic about contacting your local office, gathering your information, and completing an application

What does the child support program do?

State and tribal child support programs locate noncustodial parents, establish paternity, establish and enforce support orders, modify orders when appropriate, collect and distribute child support payments, and refer parents to other services. While programs vary from state to state, their services are available to all parents who need them.

Our program’s mission is to increase parental support of children by:

  • Locating parents
  • Establishing legal fatherhood (paternity)
  • Establishing and enforcing fair support orders
  • Increasing health care coverage for children
  • Referring parents to employment services, helping to build healthy family relationships, supporting responsible fatherhood and helping to prevent and reduce family violence

See our fact sheet for more about our program.

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 office for information about your case.

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