Background

The timely receipt of child support is critical for millions of American families and children. The nation’s Child Support Enforcement Program (CSE) is a federal/state/local partnership to help families by promoting family self-sufficiency and child well-being. Child support agencies locate non-custodial parents, establish paternity when necessary, establish orders for support, and collect child support payments for families.

All states and some tribes run a child support enforcement program, either in the human services department or department of revenue, often with the help of prosecuting attorneys, district attorneys, other law enforcement agencies, and officials of family or domestic relations courts. Families seeking government child support services must apply directly through their state/local agency or one of the tribes running the program. The most recent state-reported data show that nearly $18 billion in child support payments was distributed. The total child support caseload was over 17 million.

Services are available to a parent with custody of a child who has a parent living outside of the home. Services are available automatically for families receiving assistance under the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program. Current child support collected reimburses the state and federal governments for TANF payments made to the family. Those not receiving public assistance can apply for child support services. Child support payments that are collected on behalf of non-TANF families are sent to the family.

The Federal Office of Child Support Enforcement (OCSE) maintains an Internet site that is always available and open to give general child support information. It provides access to state child support agency Internet sites as well. The OCSE Internet site provides general answers to many questions that families may have about the program. Questions regarding a specific case are best answered by the state child support agency since states are responsible for the day-to-day administration of the program. Find out more by logging on at: http://www.acf.hhs.gov/programs/cse.

General Information

The Child Support Enforcement Program provides four major services to our customers: locating non-custodial parents, establishing paternity, establishing support orders, and collecting support payments. The program also provides services to non-custodial parents. States offer access and visitation services through federal grants.

Locating Non-Custodial Parents – Child support enforcement officials can use information from highly computerized state and Federal Parent Locator Services (FPLS) to locate parents. In 2003, the FPLS processed more than four and a half million cases.

Establishing Paternity – Legally identifying a child’s father is called paternity establishment. This is the necessary first step for obtaining an order for child support when a child is born out of wedlock. Establishing paternity can also provide a child with access to Social Security benefits, pension and retirement benefits, medical insurance, health information, and important interactions and relationships with both parents.

Many fathers voluntarily acknowledge paternity. In a disputed case, father, mother, and child can be required to submit to genetic tests. The genetic test results are highly accurate. States must have procedures that allow paternity to be established up to the child’s eighteenth birthday. Hospitals must provide fathers the opportunity to acknowledge paternity voluntarily at the time of birth. In 2003, about 1.6 million paternities were established and acknowledged. Of these, nearly 700,000 were voluntarily acknowledged in a hospital at the time of birth.

Establishing Support Orders – States must have guidelines to determine how much a parent should pay for child support. Child support orders can be established by a court or by an administrative hearing process. Provisions for health insurance coverage must be included in the support order.

Collecting Support – A parent can be required to pay child support by income withholding. Over 60 percent of all child support is paid by income withholding. Overdue child support can be collected from federal and state income tax refunds. Liens can be placed on property, and the property itself can be sold to pay back child support owed. Unpaid child support can be reported automatically to credit reporting bureaus. Drivers, professional, occupational, and recreational licenses can be suspended if the obligated parent is not paying required support. The U.S. State Department will deny a passport to someone who owes more than $5,000 in back child support. Child support agencies have agreements with financial institutions to freeze and seize accounts of those identified as owing back child support.

States have uniform interstate laws to make it easier to collect support across state lines. There are registries of newly hired employees to speed collection of support. There is also a special effort, in certain states and under certain circumstances, where criminal actions can be taken against chronic delinquent parents who owe large sums of child support. More information is available from your state child support agency.

Services for Non-Custodial Parents – States receive grants from the federal government to help with non-custodial parents’ access to and visitation with their children. Each state operates such programs under very broad guidelines. These projects can provide mediation, counseling, parenting education, visitation programs, and the development of visitation and custody guidelines. There are also projects in a number of states to promote responsible fatherhood and encourage marriage.

SOURCE: DivorceNet