"Paying child support through the CS system helps noncustodial parents develop financial stability."
The Child Support Order
A child support order establishes the amount of support to be paid by a parent who is not living with the child, known as the noncustodial parent. Child support payments may be required even when both parents have custody or when neither parent lives with the child, such as when the child is in foster care or lives with other relatives.
How are Child Support Orders Established?
Child support orders may be established by a court, or administratively by Child Support (CS) agencies. Final child support orders can only be set after paternity has been established.
States use different procedural processes to establish child support orders according to their particular laws. Approaches include court-based processes, administrative processes, and, in some cases, hybrid models. In States that use a court-based establishment process, child support orders are established by a court and may be included in divorce, custody, paternity, and other family support matters. A child support order established by a court can only be changed or modified by a court. In States using an administrative establishment process, child support orders are established by the CS agency or at an administrative hearing, and such orders can be modified through similar administrative procedures.
Child support payment amounts are set according to State guidelines. States consider all income of the noncustodial parent and address how the parents will provide for the child’s health care needs, usually through insurance or cash support. Many States also consider the income of the custodial parent when determining the child support amount.
While child support agencies make every attempt to gather income information from both parents, in some cases the agency may not be able to obtain this information from the noncustodial parent. Without complete and accurate financial information, orders can be established at a level that makes it difficult for the noncustodial parent to pay. To prevent this from happening, noncustodial parents should participate in the process of order establishment.
If a noncustodial parent had previously not participated in the order establishment and the amount of child support required is above state guidelines for the parent’s resources, the parent may request a change in the amount. See “Child Support Modification” for more information.
How Does a Custodial Parent Establish a Child Support Order?
In cases of divorce, child support orders are usually addressed during the divorce proceedings. If the parents are separated and a child support order has not been established, the CS agency may be able to help a parent obtain a temporary order. If the parents are not married and paternity has not been established, the CS agency will seek to establish paternity of the child, and the court or CS agency will work with the family to establish an appropriate child support order after the paternity is established. The court in some States may set a temporary child support order while the issue of paternity is being reviewed by the court.
Parents applying for public assistance (such as TANF, Medicaid, and, in some states, subsidized child care) are immediately referred to the child support agency to establish a child support order, if necessary. Parents who are not receiving public assistance should contact their CS agency for assistance in obtaining an order. See More Information for a link to a directory of CS programs nationwide.
How Will Obtaining a Child Support Order Help an AFI Project Participant?
Child support payments are often a substantial source of support for low-income custodial parents:
Paying child support through the CS system helps noncustodial parents develop financial stability:
Information on state CS agencies:
This is one in a series of fact sheets on asset-building, fatherhood, and child support services produced by the Assets for Independence Resource Center. For more information, visit the resource center website at www.IDAresources.org or contact the center on 1-866-778-6037 or via email at info@IDAresources.org.