How Does Child Support Work?

The process begins when you apply for child support services or when your local child support office receives a referral from another public assistance program. Then your local child support office works to find the other parent, legally formalize parentage, set the order, and route the collected funds to the parent owed support.

Every state is different so contact your local child support office to learn more about the process as it applies to your case. Our Handbook provides more information on how child support works.

Typically, a child support case will include these five steps:

  • 1. Finding Parents

    It’s true: children with two involved parents lead better lives. It’s also true that you need both parents to make the child support process work. When necessary, we try to locate the other parent using information provided by the parent opening a case, plus information we gather from other resources to start the child support process.


  • 2. Determining Parentage

    Once we find the other parent, it’s important to establish a legal relationship with the child. Your state will help you find the right means to do this. Parents can make a voluntary acknowledgment of their parentage or can arrange for genetic testing.


  • 3. Establishing Orders

    A child support order determines how much the other parent will pay and includes additional important aspects, like the payment structure and provisions for the child’s health care coverage. States and tribes have various procedures for establishing orders. Orders should be fair. You can request to modify yours, if needed.


  • 4. Collecting Support

    Collection terms are case-specific. It’s a little different for everyone. What’s universal is the need for financial stability in your child’s life. Child support can do that.

    Children need the financial and emotional support of both parents. Children feel loved when parents care for them in these ways. Ensuring regular child support payments can help parents provide consistently for their children.


  • 5. Working Together

    We do more than collect child support. We can also connect you to other programs for additional needs that you, the other parent, or your child may have. Together, we can improve:

    • Fathers’ involvement
    • Employment opportunities
    • Services to keep you safe
    • Health care coverage
    • Social services


Last Reviewed: July 12, 2018

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