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How Do I Enforce a Child Support Award?



Child support enforcement encompasses seven functions:

  1. Location of absent parent(s)
  2. Establishment of paternity
  3. Establishment of child support orders
  4. Review and modification of existing child support orders based on changes in circumstances or state guidelines
  5. Promotion of medical support and/or health care coverage
  6. Collection and distribution of unpaid child support
  7. Enforcement of child support across state and reciprocal country lines

In enforcement cases, officials obtain information about the noncustodial parent from the custodial parent. If the noncustodial parent cannot be located, then a state parent locator service is used. The locator service taps telephone directories, vehicle registries, tax files, and employment (or unemployment) records.

After the noncustodial parent is located, the enforcement agency directs the noncustodial parent’s employer within two business days to withhold child support payments from the noncustodial parent's paycheck. The exception to this automatic income withholding occurs when the employee’s income is not subject to withholding.

There are two recognized exceptions to the automatic withholding of income rule. One exception occurs if one of the parties shows and the court holds that there is sufficient good cause not to require the withholding on an immediate basis. Another exception occurs if the parties consent to an alternative written agreement. In those exceptions, the noncustodial parent's employer is required to send to the state’s disbursement unit the income of the employee that has been withheld. Employers are required to accomplish remittance within seven business days after the employee's payday. Payments are sent to the custodial parent within two business days.

Paternity is an integral part of the enforcement process, as it is a required condition to obtaining child support under court order. When paternity is disputed, states can order the potential father into court and compel blood testing, hear scientific and testimonial evidence, and order genetic testing. The most contested cases result in a formal adjudication of paternity in court.

States can set child support payment requirements through judicial or administrative processes. Child support orders legally mandate that the noncustodial parent financially support his or her child, set the payment amount, and determine how the payment is to be made.

Modifications are required for child support obligations to ensure that they are sufficient and fair. Previously, a party seeking modification had to petition the court based on a demonstrated change in circumstances. Now, due to federal reforms, states must use guidelines for child support awards and the review and adjustment of those awards.

Child support agencies are required to seek medical support, including health insurance coverage, in child support orders if the coverage to the noncustodial parent is reasonably priced. Enforcement agencies and courts collect support when it is not paid timely and completely, chiefly through wage withholding.