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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.

Your local child support office provides these services:

  • 1. Open a Child Support Case

    Complete an application with your local child support agency. If you receive help from the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program, check with your child support office to see if a case is already open.


  • 2. Locate the Other Parent

    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.


  • 3. Establish 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.


  • 4. Establish a Child Support Order

    A child support order determines how much the other parent will pay and includes important information 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.


  • 5. Set Up Payment

    The most common way to pay child support is to deduct the payment from the parent’s paycheck and distribute the money to the other parent or guardian. It’s an easy way to make and keep a record of child support payments.


  • 6. Enforce the Support Order

    When the parent doesn’t pay the full amount or doesn’t pay at all, your child support agency enforces the child support order. Other enforcement methods might include withholding child support from unemployment or worker’s compensation benefits, intercepting income tax refunds, and reporting delinquent child support payments to credit bureaus.


  • 7. Review the Order

    Either parent can ask their local child support office to review their order three years after the order is set. They can request a review before three years if a parent experiences substantial changes in circumstances, such as job loss or incarceration.


Last Reviewed: December 19, 2019

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