The Child Support Enforcement is a program of legislated policies and procedures developed and administered at the federal, state and local levels that addresses the establishment of paternity and the enforcement of support orders with the intent of promoting the general economic welfare and best interest of dependent children.
Child Support Enforcement exists to raise the standard of living for children by enforcing their right to support from both of their parents and to reduce or recover welfare costs. Child Support Enforcement operates with these guiding principles:
- It is the legal duty of non-custodial parents as well as custodial parents to support their children.
- Residing in a single-parent home should not lower a child's standard of living.
- Paternity is the important first step in the process of establishing support for a child.
- Parental responsibility and family independence are keys to the long-term prosperity of children.
Non-payment of child support is a primary reason millions of children nationwide receive public assistance. Parents who do not pay child support shift the cost of caring for their children to the taxpayers of the children's state. By collecting court ordered child support, the state child support enforcement reduces the financial burden on the state's taxpayers. These increased collections mean more US children are receiving the child support they deserve and fewer American families will have to resort to public assistance to survive.
Every child has a legal right to the financial support of both parents, even if the parents are divorced, separated or never married. The child support enforcement program is a joint federal and state effort to collect child support from absent parents. The child support enforcement program is a cooperative effort between the Judicial and Executive Branches of government. Each state, as well as the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico and other US territories, must have a child support enforcement agency with the authority to establish and to enforce child support court orders, and to collect the court awarded child support.
The Social Security IV-D Program
The IV-D program (pronounced Four-D) is the technical name for the government administered child support enforcement program. The term "IV-D"' comes from Title IV-D of the Social Security Act, which is the program's federal enabling statute. A case is considered IV-D if the family has received public assistance benefits (AFDC or TANF), or if an application for services was filed with either the Department of Social Services or the Child Support Enforcement Unit.
The state child support enforcement agency is responsible for the following aspects of the IV-D program:
- Monitoring child support awards for compliance with financial, medical insurance and child care orders,
- Initiating court based enforcement actions such as income withholdings and contempt applications,
- Reviewing financial support orders and initiating modifications when the order substantially deviates from the state's child support guidelines, and filing modifications to add medical insurance orders, and
- Serving as clerk of the court in interstate child support actions initiated under the Uniform Interstate Family Support Act (UIFSA)
- Use of the Child Support Enforcement Program is not mandatory. You may establish paternity or child support, and enforce a court order without the assistance of the IV-D program.
The state child support enforcement agency serves the residents of the state regardless of income. Services include parent locating services, genetic testing to establish paternity, child support order establishment and order modification reviews, medical support, wages withholding, computerized accounting and billing, and interception of federal and state income tax refunds. A small application fee may be charged to some families with the means-to-pay. The state child support enforcement agency determines on a case-by-case basis which of the following services will be utilized.
Finding the Absent Parent
In order to establish the paternity of a child, or to obtain or modify an order of support, or to enforce a child support order, the state child support enforcement agency must know where the absent parent lives or works. Any information you provide, such as last known address, social security number, date-of-birth, employer, bank account number, property holdings, investments, and physical description, will help the state child support enforcement agency locate the absent parent.
This information may be obtained from the following:
- Old insurance policies,
- Credit cards or credit applications,
- State and federal tax returns,
- Past employers or business associates,
- Hospital records,
- Police records,
- Friends or relatives of the non-custodial parent, and
- Birth certificates.
If a social security number is provided, all federal and state files can be accessed. If the non-custodial parent's social security number is not available, the absent parent can be located if you have his or her date of birth, place of birth, father's name and mother's maiden name. The state child support enforcement agency can contact the following agencies to locate the other parent:
- Social Security Administration,
- Internal Revenue Service,
- Veterans Administration,
- Department of Defense,
- The Armed Forces, and
- Selective Service Administration.
The state child support enforcement agency will utilize proven investigative techniques, including the Federal Parent Locator Service (FPLS), to search for address and employment information in all state data bases as well as federal data bases. Finding a non-custodial parent through these sources may take several months.
The state child support enforcement agency represents a unified effort among the state department of public aid, local officials, the state courts, the district attorneys, the clerks of court, the state Attorney General and the state's highest court to provide the services necessary to establish paternity. This is an important part of the process of obtaining a support order for the child.
Paternity means fatherhood. Paternity establishment is a family court procedure to make the child's father the "legal" father. The husband is considered to be the legal father if the parents were married when the child was born. If they were not married at the time, then paternity must be proven before the court will enter an order for support. Paternity may be established by voluntary acknowledgement, blood testing or genetic testing, and other available evidence. DNA testing has become the standard in most states, ensuring that state-of-the-art technology is used in paternity establishment.
Establishing, Modifying and Terminating Support Obligations
A support order is a legal order, entered by either a judge of a family court or, in some jurisdictions, by an administrative law judge or hearing officer with jurisdiction to handle family law matters. The order sets forth the amount of the child support obligation and how it is to be paid. Such an order is necessary if enforcement ever becomes needed. Nationwide, a large number of single parents take care of their children without a legally binding support order establishing the minimum support requirement of the non-custodial parent. Nationally, only 58 percent of all single-parent households have court orders for child support, and only half of those actually receive the support due to them. Securing a child support order is a very important part of the child support enforcement process.
Pursuant to the Uniform Interstate Family Support Act (UIFSA), each state must establish Child Support Guidelines to be used by the courts and the state child support enforcement agency to determine the amount of the non-custodial parent's child support obligation. The child support guidelines should take into consideration:
- The needs of the child,
- The child's present, and future well-being,
- Other dependants, and
- The ability of the non-custodial parent to pay.
Establishing an enforceable support order depends on how much success you, your lawyer, or the state child support enforcement agency have in several critical areas: locating the absent parent, identifying his or her ability to pay, and determining the financial needs of the child.
From time to time, a support order may need to be modified, due to a change in circumstances, or terminated when the child no longer needs support. The state child support enforcement agency can assist with these procedures as well.
Collecting and Disbursing Support Obligations
Fast and efficient collection, recording, and disbursement of child support funds collected by the state child support enforcement agency benefits the children and the state taxpayers. Income withholding is one method the states have to ensure the fast collection of child support obligations. All child support cases are required to utilize this method to help make certain that the non-custodial parent regularly makes their child support payments and to promptly distribute those payments on behalf of the children, which helps to reduce the custodial parent's anxiety and frustration.
After being served with a withholding order, employers must forward the money to the state child support enforcement agency within a certain time period after the employee is paid.
Also, the state child support enforcement agency will collect child support debts owed by non-custodial parents and use those funds to repay the state for funds it disbursed to children who received public assistance funds, including Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC), Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF), or Medicaid.
Enforcing Delinquent Child Support Obligations
A primary objective of the child support enforcement program is to ensure that payments are made regularly and in the correct amount. While many non-custodial parents are willing to pay child support and remain connected to their children, lapses in payment and nonpayment do occur, which may immediately and significantly impact the custodial parent's family budget. The failure to pay child support can quickly and seriously disrupt the children's life which tends to increase the anxiety the custodial parent feels when the well-being of the children is threatened.
Non-custodial parents who do not pay child support established by court order are subject to enforcement measures to collect regular and past-due payments. The state child support enforcement agency has broad authority to collect and enforce the payment of child support.
Some of the enforcement methods currently available to the state child support enforcement agency are:
- Suspending the non-custodial parent's driver license;
- Suspending other licenses such as occupational and professional licenses, and hunting and fishing licenses;
- Income withholding, including military wages, by requiring employers to deduct child support from non-custodial parents' wages (Collecting support through income deduction);
- Placing liens on real estate (homes, buildings, land and other property) and personal property such as cars, boats, and other personal property;
- Placing bank account levies and garnishments;
- Interception of Federal and State income tax refunds;
- Interception of lottery winnings, unemployment compensation, retirement payment, and worker's compensation benefits;
- Cross matching new hire reporting;
- Reporting information regarding past due child support to credit bureaus, which can affect the non-custodial parent's credit rating; and
- Cooperating with the court in the issuance of writs, also known as arrest warrants, which are entered into the state's crime computer and used by law enforcement officers statewide for possible criminal prosecution.
The state child support enforcement agency also enforces the provision of medical insurance for dependants. The medical insurance program requires parents to provide available health care insurance for dependent children. This is done when the state child support enforcement agency notifies an employer to enroll eligible dependants of an employee in available medical insurance plans.
The state child support enforcement agency does not handle problems related to divorce, property settlement, visitation and custody. These matters must be handled through the family court, or by the appropriate legal state entity with jurisdiction to handle family law matters.
Generally, the state child support enforcement agency will not take an enforcement action on a case unless the non-custodial parent is 30 days late in the payment of support.