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Handbook on Child Support Enforcement

Answers to Your Questions

Department of Health and Human Services
Administration for Children and Families
Office of Child Support Enforcement


Updated 2005

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The Child Support Enforcement (CSE) Program is a Federal/state/local partnership to collect child support: We want to send the strongest possible message that parents cannot walk away from their children. Our goals are to ensure that children have the financial support of both their parents, to foster responsible behavior towards children, to emphasize that children need to have both parents involved in their lives, and to reduce welfare costs.

The Federal CSE Program was established in 1975 as Title IV-D of the Social Security Act. It functions in all states and territories, through the state/county Social Services Department, Attorney General's Office, or Department of Revenue. Most states work with prosecuting attorneys, other law enforcement agencies, and officials of family or domestic relations courts to carry out the program at the local level. Native American Tribes, too, can operate child support programs in the context of their cultures and traditions with Federal funding.

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

The Federal Office of Child Support Enforcement (OCSE) is part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. It helps states develop, manage, and operate their programs effectively and according to Federal law. OCSE pays the major share of state program operating costs, provides location services, policy guidance and technical help to enforcement agencies, conducts audits and educational programs, supports research, and shares ideas for program improvement.

We believe that child support enforcement provides hope as well as support to America's children. We dedicate this Handbook to the millions of parents who put their children first by responsibly providing for their emotional and financial support.


This Handbook on Child Support Enforcement is a guide to help you get the child support payments your children need and deserve. Although it is written for people who are working through Child Support Enforcement (CSE) offices, it will also be useful to parents who are working with private attorneys.

To ensure that children have parentage established and to establish fair child support payments, state CSE programs provide:

  • Voluntary in-hospital paternity acknowledgement
  • Genetic testing at the request of either party in disputed paternity cases
  • Child support guidelines for determining child support orders established in each state
  • Review of child support orders at least every three years at the request of either parent

Tools that are available to collect child support include:

  • Income withholding
  • Revocation of drivers, professional, recreational and occupational licenses of parents who are not current in their child support payments
  • Seizure of assets, including financial accounts
  • Liens on property
  • Denial of passports
  • Federal and state tax refund offset

To ensure that state and local child support offices have access to information, the Federal government operates the Federal Parent Locator Service (FPLS), which includes the Federal Case Registry (FCR) and the National Directory of New Hires (NDNH). The FPLS has access to information from state and Federal government agencies. The FCR maintains caseload information from all states and territories.

The Administration for Children and Families (ACF) Office of Child Support Enforcement (OCSE) has a website for people who have access to the Internet. The site provides current information about the CSE program, policy matters, state and Federal office addresses, links to state websites, a frequently asked questions section, and links to related agencies. The web address is:

* Words in italics are defined in the Glossary.


I. Introduction
       Who can get help� how to apply for services�what they cost

II. Finding the Noncustodial Parent: Location
       State and Federal resources

III. Establishing Fatherhood: Paternity
       Benefits�Voluntary acknowledgement

IV. Establishing the Support Order: Obligation
       Guidelines�Review and modification �Medical support

V. Enforcement
       Techniques that work

VI. Distribution
       Where does the money go?

VII. ACF Healthy Marriage Initiative
       Connection with the Child Support Enforcement Program

VIII. Working Across Borders -- Cooperation between States, Tribes, Countries

IX. Noncustodial Parents' Rights and Responsibilities
       Making sure the order is fair Maintaining a bond with children

X. Lessons Learned

XI. Conclusion

       Glossary of Child Support Enforcement Terms
       State Child Support Enforcement Offices
       Regional Offices of the Office of Child Support Enforcement
       Tribal Grantee Contact Information


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