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Handbook on Child Support Enforcement
Answers to Your Questions
Department of Health and Human Services
Are you a parent – divorced, separated or never married--with children to support?
Are you a noncustodial parent with questions about your rights and responsibilities?
Do you need to locate a parent? …establish paternity? …get a child support order?
Do you need help to collect child support?
Are you pregnant, or the parent of a child, and thinking about marriage?
In this Handbook, you will find the basic steps to follow to establish paternity, to obtain a support order, and to collect the support due, whether you are working with your state, local, or tribal Child Support Enforcement (CSE) program or your own attorney. There is information for noncustodial parents about providing financial and emotional support to your children, about keeping in touch with them, and keeping support orders fair. Although the function of the CSE program is to collect and distribute child support payments, throughout the Handbook we hope to give the message that children fare best when both parents play an active, supportive role in their lives.
The CSE Program is run by the states, usually in the Human Services Departments, Attorney Generals' Offices, or Departments of Revenue. Several Native American tribes have established CSE programs as well. Child support enforcement is handled according to state or tribal laws and practices. The states and tribes determine the forum under which child support activities take place. In this Handbook, we will use the term "tribunal" to refer to the office (court, judicial, or administrative) with authority to make legally binding decisions.
The Handbook is organized so that you can refer directly to the sections you need. Your state's CSE program is available to help:
We have added sections to the Handbook to address:
* Words in italics are defined in the Glossary.
The more you take an active role in learning about the CSE program, and in getting information to your caseworker, the more success you will have in obtaining regular and full child support payments for your children.
This Handbook gives basic information. To learn more about how the program will work for you, or to apply for child support services, call your local CSE office. Check the county listings in your telephone book to get the telephone number, or call or write the state CSE agency. (CSE agency toll-free numbers, when available, are listed too.)
If you have access to the internet, there is a listing of CSE agencies at:
State CSE websites often give the addresses and telephone numbers for local offices:
There is a listing of tribal CSE agencies at:
Un listado de las agencias de CSE en español se puede encontrar en:
La información de la ayuda del niño en español está disponible en:
Property settlement, visitation and custody are not, by themselves, child support enforcement issues and the CSE Program generally cannot establish or enforce orders relating to them. However, each state receives grant money from the Federal Office of Child Support (OCSE) to develop model programs to ensure that children have access to both their parents. Your state CSE agency can tell you about the program in your state, and if there are other resources through the courts or other systems set up by the state.
If unmarried parents have considered getting married, but need advice, there may be help available though community- or faith-based organizations that teach healthy marriage and parenting skills. These organizations can help couples make good decisions about getting married and about sustaining healthy relationships. There is solid evidence that children whose parents can develop a healthy marriage have greater financial and emotional security. Learning parenting skills (communication, responsibility, child development, etc.), even if the parents decide not to marry, will help them to provide their children with support and stability. The CSE agency may be able to guide parents to the resources available in their states.
Any parent or person with custody of a child who needs help to establish a child support or medical support order or to collect support payments can apply for child support enforcement services. People who have received assistance under the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), Medicaid, and Federally assisted Foster Care programs are automatically referred for child support enforcement services.
Either parent can get help to have a child support order reviewed at least every three years, or whenever there is a substantial change of circumstances, to ensure that the order remains fair.
An unmarried father can apply for services to establish paternity -- a legal relationship with his child.
A noncustodial parent whose case is not in the CSE Program can apply for services and make payments through the Program. Doing so ensures that there is a record of payments made.
Location services are available for noncustodial parents whose children have been hidden from them in violation of a custody or visitation order.
Although the majority of custodial parents are mothers, keep in mind that either the mother or father may have primary custody of the child.
You can apply through the state or local child support enforcement (CSE) office. Usually, applying to your local CSE agency is most effective; however, you have the right to apply to another tribunal if that will result in more efficient service. The telephone numbers for state CSE Agencies can be found in telephone directories, usually under the state/county social services agency, at the end of this Handbook, or on the state's child support website. These sites are linked at: http://www.acf.hhs.gov/programs/cse/extinf.html
No matter where you start -- establishing paternity, finding a noncustodial parent, establishing or enforcing a support order -- the CSE office must have enough information to work on your case effectively. All information you provide will be treated in confidence. The more details you provide, the easier it will be to process your case and to collect child support payments for your children.
Bring as much as you can of the following information and documents. This will help the CSE office to locate the parent, establish paternity, and establish and/or enforce your child support order.
You play a big role in getting the child support your children deserve.
People receiving assistance under Medicaid, Foster Care, or cash assistance programs do not have to pay for CSE services. For all others, a fee of up to $25 is charged, although some states absorb all or part of the fee or collect payment from the noncustodial parent.
Because child support agencies may recover all or part of the actual costs of their services from people who are not in a public assistance program, there may be other costs to parents. These can include the cost of legal work done by agency attorneys, costs of establishing paternity, and costs of locating a noncustodial parent. The costs may be deducted from the child support payment before it is sent to you or may be collected from the noncustodial parent. Not all states recover the costs of their services. Your local CSE office can tell you about the practices in your state.
Your caseworker should be able to estimate the costs involved in your case, and give you an idea of how much they will deduct from each check before sending it to you.
There may be extra costs if more than one tribunal is handling your case. Ask your caseworker to estimate these costs, if any.
CSE offices are required to monitor payments to make sure they are made regularly and fully. But you should inform the agency if payments are late, in the wrong amount, or if you receive payments directly. When you monitor your case, you can keep the CSE office informed so that it can act quickly if needed.
Most local CSE offices handle enforcement in different jurisdictions in the same state without your having to travel outside your own jurisdiction. Ask your local CSE office for details about how enforcement would work in your case.
To be eligible for assistance programs, you must provide information to help to identify the father and collect child support from him. Any child support collected will be used to help support your children -- going either directly to you or to repay the state for your assistance grant. Your state CSE agency will explain how the child support will be used.
If you think that you or the baby would not be safe if you try to establish paternity or collect child support, and you need to be in a cash assistance program, you can talk with your caseworker about showing good cause for not naming the father. There are safeguards in place to protect you, such as a family violence indicator that can be placed in your records so that your personal information is not released to anyone who is not authorized to view it.
If you apply for services, the CSE office will try to find the noncustodial parent to establish or enforce a child support obligation. Be sure to give your caseworker all the information you have that might help find the parent.
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