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Child Support Services

There are multiple child support services and organizations located across the United States. They can be found in every single state at various agencies. The Office of Child Support Enforcement works closely with each of those tribal, state, and federal agencies in order to make sure that as many children as possible receive the support that they need and deserve.

Types of Child Support Services Agencies

There are several types, or levels, of child support services agencies in the country. At the top level is the federally run Office of Child Support Enforcement (OCSE), which is actually a division of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS). The OCSE website, http://www.acf.hhs.gov/programs/css is a great resource for parents and other concerned parties who want to learn more about how child support is calculated and enforced in the United States.

The next level is state child support agencies. Each state has its own agencies with its own variations on child support laws and calculations. The state child support services offered by those agencies tend to be similar in every state, but there are subtle differences. There are even differences in the names of the organizations that govern child support in each state.

Next are the local child support services branch offices. They follow all of the state’s rules and offer all of the services. They are conveniently located in various places in each state. The main office in each state typically controls them and fields any questions or issues that can not be handled in a branch office.

Finally, there are the tribal child support services that are offered for Native American families across the United States. Tribal child support agencies offer many of the same services as other child support agencies, but they operate under tribal laws and traditions. There are currently tribal child support services agencies representing more than 50 Native American tribes.

Specific Child Support Services Offered

It is up to the courts to determine what child support payments need to be made, if any. However, child support services offered by the various agencies across the country may include:

  • Locating Missing Parents
  • Working with Other State Agencies to Get Parents to Pay Court Ordered Child Support
  • Orchestrating Paternity Tests
  • Helping Out of Work Parents to Obtain Work
  • Assisting in Situations Where Child Support is Needed, But the Non-Custodial Parent May be Violent

In fact, many child support services in the various states are part of other family-oriented programs. So, you may be able to ask your child support caseworker about other available assistance tools, if you need more help than just child support. For more information, visit http://www.acf.hhs.gov/programs/css/resource/state-and-tribal-child-support-agency-contacts to find your state’s child support services and get started.

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Top 10 Things to Know When Applying for Child Support

If you have custody of your child, or children, and you want to apply to get the other parent to pay child support, there are a lot of things that you need to know. Here are 10 of the most important things to get you started.

Where to Seek Assistance

The first thing you need to know is where to seek assistance. You can consult a lawyer to get a child support petition started with the court, but you do have other options. Your first step should be to contact your local or state child support agency. They can advise you of your rights, help you estimate how much you are owed, and even help you to track down the other parent.

Parent and Child Information

When you sit down with a child support caseworker at your local or state agency, he or she will want to know as much as possible about your case. So, you should prepare ahead of time. Make sure that you have information gathered that includes the names of the parents and children involved, as well as social security numbers, addresses, work information if you have it, and any information you have that can prove paternity.

How to Track Down a Father

If you don’t know where the father of your child is, but you do know who the father is, your local child support agency can help you to track him down. You can also use the Federal Parent Locator Service (FPLS) by visiting http://www.acf.hhs.gov/programs/css/fpls.

If you aren’t even sure who the father of your child is, but you know that it’s one of a certain group of people, you have the option of getting your local child support agency and possibly an attorney to help you petition the court for DNA testing. In some cases, potential fathers, when contacted, may even agree to testing without you having to petition the court first.

How to File a Child Support Petition with the Court

Once you know who the father of your child is, you can petition the court for child support. Your attorney or your local child support agency can help you to do that.

How Child Support is Calculated

Child support is usually calculated based on the non-custodial parent’s income and the number of children, mainly. However, you should see the rules in your state for more information.

How Long You Can Collect Child Support

Generally, child support is paid until the child is 18. Sometimes that is extended to 21. It may even be extended indefinitely, if the child is disabled.

What to Do if the Other Parent Leaves the State or Lived in Another State to Begin With

If the other parent is in another state, federal agencies may need to get involved. However, your local or state agency can help you to take the necessary steps to contact those agencies, if necessary. So, you should still start with your local agency.

What to Do if Circumstances Change After the Original Child Support Order is in Place

Either parent can start a new court petition to have the amount of child support changed, if there has been a change of employment or circumstances.

Whether or Not You Can Collect After Getting Married

If you marry someone who is not the father of your child, the father is still obligated to pay child support, unless your new spouse legally adopts the child or the court determines that child support is no longer necessary.

Where to Get Your Other Questions Answered

It’s good to be as prepared as possible before you apply for child support. So, be sure to visit http://www.acf.hhs.gov/programs/css or your local or state child support agency’s website for more information.

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Reporting Child Support Fraud

Unfortunately, child support fraud is a fairly common occurrence in the United States. There are many ways to commit the act of child support fraud, and some are easier to track than others. For example, someone could take on only jobs that pay in cash and then not report their income. Alternatively, they could simply avoid getting a job on purpose. It’s even possible for a person to accidentally not pay their child support, if their employer is supposed to automatically withhold it and the system fails to do so. However, regardless of the methods or intentions involved, if you suspect someone of child support fraud, it’s important to report the situation to the authorities in your area as quickly as possible.

Make Sure That You Have Proof

Since issues of fraud relating to child support are taken very seriously by the authorities, you need to make sure that you have proof before you accuse someone. Otherwise, you could be doing a lot of harm to an innocent person and wasting a lot of people’s time. Unfortunately, it can be hard to get true proof, since the person isn’t likely to admit to fraud. However, you could get pictures or receipts for expensive items that they have purchased. If they are reporting a low income so they can avoid high child support payments, but they are actually making and spending large amounts of money, that could be proof of fraud.

Report The Fraud

Once you have proof, you can report the fraud to the child support enforcement agency in your state. Each state has a different agency, which may go by a different name. Some possible organization names are:

  • Office of Child Support Enforcement
  • Office of Child Support Services
  • Office of Child Welfare Services

If you aren’t sure what the proper agency in your state is, you can refer to http://www.acf.hhs.gov/programs/css/state-and-tribal-child-support-agency-contacts-map. Simply click on the image of your state on that map to locate your tribal or state child support agency and report the potential fraud to them.

Of course, reporting child support fraud may not be as easy if you think that the fraud is occurring in another state. In cases that cross state lines, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Inspector General may need to be involved. You can contact that office directly, or you can contact your local child support agency and they will let you know whether or not other agencies, such as that need to be involved.

Take Legal Action

No matter what your relationship is to the child or parent, you should report child support fraud if you know it is happening. However, if you are the custodial parent, you may need to take one final step. Legal action might be required in order to get the non-custodial parent to make their child support payments, or get the amount of the payments changed to reflect the non-custodial parent’s real earnings. If you need to take that step, you will have to petition the family court and have a judge review the case.

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Parental Locator Services for Child Support

If you have one or more children and want the other parent to pay child support, but you don’t know where they are, the first step is to try to locate them.

Start at Your Local Child Support Agency

The first thing that you can do is talk to your local child support agency. When you open a case with them, they can use the tools at their disposal to locate the missing parent. When you meet with the caseworker, just be sure to bring proof of paternity. That could include a certified birth certificate, letters to the child from the other parent, divorce paperwork, or anything else that indicates that the parent and child are linked.

If it can’t be easily proven that the person is the biological parent, your local child support agency still may be able to help you. In fact, they can often track down the alleged parent and either get them to voluntarily submit to DNA testing or help you to get a court order for DNA testing.

In order to help the agency track down the person in question, you should also bring as much of the following information as possible to your interview:

  • The Full Name of the Alleged Parent
  • The Full Name and Date of Birth of the Child
  • The Alleged Parent’s Date of Birth and Last Know Place of Residence
  • Any Information You Have About the Alleged Parent’s Employment
  • Other Information, Such as Postmarked Letters, That Could Indicate the Alleged Parent’s Location

State Resources May Vary

Each state has its own laws and procedures governing child support. They also have their own parental locator services for child support. For example, some states have online forms that you can fill out to try to locate an absent parent. Other states may require you to search for a parent through an attorney, or by filing some sort of legal action.

The DHHS and the OCSE

In cases where one parent lives in a certain state and the other parent is proven to be in another state, or suspected of being in another state, it may be better to use other parental locator services for child support. For example, you might need to contact the United States Department of Health and Human Services.

A division of the DHHS is the Office of Child Support Enforcement. The OCSE works together with federal, state, local, and even tribal, child support agencies to track down parents and guarantee that children receive the support that they need. So, if you are looking for a parent who owes child support, you can also access the Federal parent Locator Service on the OCSE website at http://www.acf.hhs.gov/programs/css/fpls.

In addition to all of those resources, there are also private organizations that can help you to track down missing parents. However, it’s usually safer, better, and cheaper to use official parental locator services for child support.

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Establishing the Child Support Order

If you have custody of your child, or multiple children, and you want the other parent (typically the father, but not always) to pay child support, you will need to establish a child support order with the court. The steps for doing that are slightly different depending on which state you are living in, as well as whether or not the other parent lives in a different state. However, each state has a similar process.

Determining Paternity

The first thing you will need to do, if the identity of the father is legally in question, is determine the paternity. Some men may be willing to take a paternity test, but others may not. Luckily, the court can often order them to do so.

You should start by contacting your local child support agency and for assistance with verifying the father of your child. If you know who the father is, you should bring whatever proof you have to your meeting with your child support caseworker. That proof may include:

  • A Certificate of Divorce
  • A Certified Birth Certificate for the Child with the Father’s Name
  • Letters or Other Acknowledgments by the Father to the Child

If you are unsure of where the father is, or if you need help contacting him, your local child support agency can help. To locate your local child support agency, you can start by visiting this website http://www.acf.hhs.gov/programs/css/state-and-tribal-child-support-agency-contacts-map and selecting your state on the map.

Petitioning the Court

Petitioning the court for child support can be done in a number of ways. You can get assistance from:

  • Your Local Child Support Agency
  • An Attorney
  • A Mediator

If you and the other parent are on friendly terms, you can also make the entire process easier by coming up with an agreement ahead of time and presenting it to the court. However, you should note that the judge may have to alter the terms a bit, based on the laws in your state, as well as what he or she feels will be best for all of the parties involved, especially your child.

The judge will use a number of factors to establish the child support order. Some of those factors may include:

  • The Income of Both Parents
  • Any Income the Child May Have, Such as Inheritance from a Relative
  • Special Needs of the Child (Mental or Physical)
  • Prior Court Orders
  • Agreements Reached by Both Parents and Presented to the Court

Enforcing the Child Support Order

Once the court has established a child support order, the final step is seeing to it that the order is enforced. If both parents are on friendly terms or the non-custodial parent is agreeable about paying child support, that should be easy. If not, the custodial parent may need to seek help getting the court order enforced. If you are the custodial parent, you can find helpful resources at your local child support agency, or at http://www.acf.hhs.gov/programs/css.

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Establishing Paternity for Child Support

If you are the mother of a child and you want the child’s father to pay child support, the first thing you need to do is establish paternity. In other words, you need to prove that the man in question actually is the father of the child. Your local child support agency can help you to do that.

The Interview Process

The first step of establishing paternity for child support is to schedule a paternity interview with your local child support agency. You should bring the following things to the interview:

  • Your Name and Proof of Identification
  • The Names of the Child and the Alleged Father
  • Any Letters, Pictures, or Gifts That Show That the Person in Question Acknowledged Their Paternity Already
  • Other Supporting Information

When you sit down with the caseworker for the interview, he or she will ask you personal questions about your relationship with the alleged father of your child. Those questions could include how long you were seeing each other, any expenses you incurred because of the pregnancy, and the circumstances of your child’s birth. All of that information will remain confidential.

Proving Paternity

In some cases, the father may have already admitted his paternity when the child was born. If so, an affidavit from the hospital can start the child support process. If paternity is in question, however, the alleged father can pay to have a DNA paternity test performed. A third option is that you, as the mother, may need to petition the court to have the alleged father ordered to take a paternity test.

Other Benefits of Proven Paternity

While proving paternity is important in order to get child support, it also has other benefits for the child. For example, he or she may be covered under the father’s medical insurance. He or she will also be eligible to inherit life insurance and other benefits when the father passes away.

Proving Paternity Early

even if the alleged father of your child can’t pay child support because he is out of work, or if you don’t need the child support right now, you should still try to prove paternity early. That way your child will be taken care of, as well as given access to medical benefits and the possibility of inheritance, later on.

Filing Paternity Lawsuits

In many cases, the alleged father may voluntarily submit to paternity testing. However, if he does not, you may need to file a paternity lawsuit. If that happens, it will be up to the court to order him to submit to the test. Depending on the outcome, one of you is likely to have to pay for the cost of the test. The judge will determine which one.

For more information on establishing paternity for child support and other related topics, visit http://www.acf.hhs.gov/programs/css.

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Child Support Payments

If you have one or more children with another person and the two of you are no longer together, one of you is likely to have primary custody of the child. The person who doesn’t have primary custody may be ordered by the court to make child support payments to the other person. There are a few things that you should know about how those payments are determined and made.

Standard Child Support Payments

In general, each state has a standard way that they determine how much a person will pay for child support. That formula varies a little bit from state to state, but there are certain important factors that remain the same from one state to the next. Those are:

  • How many children there are.
  • How much money both parents make.
  • Debts or obligations of both parents.
  • Money the child has from something such as an inheritance.

Additional Child Support

In some states and under certain circumstances, the court may look at other things when the amount of child support is being determined. For example, if the parent who is expected to pay child support recently got married or had another child, that may be a consideration. Also, if both parents share custody equally then child support may not need to be paid at all. The court may decide that each parent is meeting their obligations by caring for the child half of the time.

There are also several other questions that the court may ask. Some of those questions are:

  • What are the child’s expected educational expenses?
  • Does the child have unusual medical bills or special medical needs?
  • Is the custodial parent in school, unemployed, or in unpaid job training?
  • Does the child participate in sports, music, or other extra-curricular programs?

The answers to all of those questions and other similar questions will determine how much a parent has to pay in child support.

Making Child Support Payments

If you find that you need to make child support payments, the court will most likely have you do so once per month. That is likely to last until the child turns 18. The child support may be automatically withheld by your employer and transferred to the other parent, or you may have to actually make the payment yourself each month.

Either parent can petition the court to change the child support amount at any time. Generally, you would do that if you or the other parent changed work/income status, or if the two of you came to some agreement privately that differed from the original court ruling.

If you still have concerns about how to make your child support payments or how much you might owe if you have to pay child support, you can visit http://www.acf.hhs.gov/programs/css for more information or to find your state’s child support website.

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Child Support Offices

When it comes to making child support payments, the first thing you should know is where your local child support office is. You should also be aware of the services that it offers. So, here is a brief explanation of the types of child support offices, how to find the closest one to you, and what your nearest child support office can do for you.

The Office of Child Support Enforcement

The Office of Child Support Enforcement, or OCSE, is the federal branch of what might be called a child support agency tree. The OCSE website, which is http://www.acf.hhs.gov/programs/css, can direct you to all sorts of child support information. In fact, you can use the OCSE website to research court information, find resources for obtaining new employment, and learn about access and visitation programs, among other things.

Tribal Child Support Offices

There are over 50 Native American tribes that have their own child support offices and programs. Those programs are designed to uphold the cultural beliefs of the tribe members, while still holding parents responsible for child care. Some of the tasks performed by those offices include:

  • Finding Biological Parents
  • Administering DNA Testing to Prove Family Relationships
  • Creating and Enforcing Child Support Agreements
  • Providing Other Related Services to Families


State Child Support Offices

Each state in the United States has main child support offices. They also have local branch offices. However, those offices are called by different names in different states. For example, in California it is called the Department of Child Support Services, while in Michigan it is part of the Department of Human Services.

Regardless of the name of the office, the goals and services are more or less the same. Each of the child support offices is there to:

  • Help Establish Paternity
  • Locate Missing Parents
  • Set Up and Enforce Child Support Services
  • Help Out of work Parents Get Jobs in Order to Pay Child Support
  • Provide other supportive Services for Families


Finding and Contacting Your Local Child Support Office

If you are ordered by the court to pay child support, the court should refer you to your local child support office for further assistance. If not, you can easily find your local child support agency by visiting http://www.acf.hhs.gov/programs/css/state-and-tribal-child-support-agency-contacts-map. Click on your state on the map that you find on that page to find the main child support agency in that state. From the main office’s website, you should be able to see a listing of all child support offices in your state. If not, simply call the main branch of your state and talk to a customer service representative, who should be able to put you in touch with the closest office to you.

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Child Support Laws

Whether you are a custodial parent seeking child support or a non-custodial parent who may have to pay it, it’s important for you to understand the child support laws and how they apply to you. Unfortunately, that can be easier said than done, since you may need to deal with local, tribal, state, and federal child support systems. You may even have to deal with laws in more than one state, if the parents live in two different states. However, there are plenty of general guidelines and resources available to you.

Federal Child Support Laws

The first federally adopted law pertaining to child support was passed in 1910. It was called the Uniform Desertion and Non-Support Act. It required husbands to support children up to the age of 16. However, it was only enforced in 24 districts and it had several loopholes. So, many parents got around it.

Since that time, there were more laws passed and amendments to existing acts in order to increase child support enforcement. For a good list of those laws, you can visit http://singleparents.about.com/od/paternity/a/history-of-child-support.htm.

These days, federal child support laws mainly pertain to cases where the parent is not living in the same state as the child. Those laws say that an individual who doesn’t pay court ordered child support for a child in another state for a year, or if the amount owed reaches $5,000 or more, that person could spend 6 months in jail or pay a fine. That is a misdemeanor. However, if the amount or length of time reaches double that, the offense becomes a felony and the parent may pay hire fines and spend up to 2 years behind bars. For more information on those laws, visit http://www.justice.gov/criminal/ceos/citizensguide/citizensguide_child_support.html.

Local and State Child Support Laws

Local and state child support agencies handle enforcing child support laws in cases where the parent and child live in the same state. It’s also worth noting that, if the child is Native American, you may need to consult a tribal child support agency. You should also be aware that you have to talk to the appropriate local, tribal, or state agencies first, even if you want to file a federal child support case complaint.

Local, tribal and state child support laws vary a bit from one jurisdiction to the next. However, they generally line up when it comes to certain things. Those things include:

  • Child support must be paid until a child reaches the age of 18. However, it may be paid for a longer period of time if the child is disabled.
  • Child support is calculated largely based on income in each state, but each state does have a slightly different formula for calculating payments.
  • Proof of paternity needs to be established before a father is required to pay child support.

If you have any other concerns about child support laws, you can talk to a caseworker at your local child support agency, or you can visit http://www.acf.hhs.gov/programs/css to learn more about how child support is assigned and enforced.

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Child Support E-Services

When you are involved in a child support case, there may be some things that you have to take care of in person at your local child support agency office. However, there are a lot of child support e-services available to you as well. You can use some of those services beforehand to get a better understanding of the process, or you can use them after your case is open to make it easier to pay or receive child support.

Calculators, Formulas, and Online Forms for Child Support Services

Just about all states offer online calculators, formulas, and forms as part of their child support e-services. You can use those tools to estimate how much you may have to pay, or how much you may be paid by the non-custodial parent. Each state’s rules are slightly different. So, you should make sure that you are using your state’s calculator. Also, keep in mind that calculations may be more complex if there are multiple states or multiple children involved. So, it’s impossible to know exactly how much the payments will be until a payment amount is settled upon in court.

Around the Clock Account Access

One of the most important child support e-services offered by each state’s website is around the clock account access. That means that you can view information on your case at any time right in the comfort of your home. That information may include:

  • Child Support Payment History
  • A Copy or Summary of the Support Order
  • A Listing of Other Actions Taken That Relate to the Case

Most state websites will also allow you to update your personal information, including your address or phone number, online as part of their child support e-services.

Making and Verifying Payments

Another of the child support e-services offered by most states is the ability for the non-custodial parent to make or verify a payment online. Often, payments will be automatically taken out by that parent’s employer, if that service has been set up. However, the parent can then review the transactions online, possibly even printing out a copy of the transaction list. That can come in handy for tax purposes, or during court hearings.

Other Resources

Both state and federal websites also offer many other resources for both custodial and non-custodial parents. The Office of Child Support Enforcement’s website, which is http://www.acf.hhs.gov/programs/css ,is a particularly good resource for child support information. On the OCSE website you can:

  • Find Your Local Child Support Agency
  • Get Information on Child Support as it Relates to Veterans
  • Get Information on How to Deal with Family Violence and Child Support
  • Get Information on Job Services and Training

There are also many other child support and related links that you can access from the OCSE’s website. So, it is one of the best general child support e-services available.

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