"The primary CS goal has remained consistent over the years: helping parents obtain child support."
The Basics of Child Support
Child support plays a pivotal role in the finances of many families that AFI projects serve. For low-income single parents, it comprises 25 percent of their monthly income. As such, child support payments supplement earnings and help enable savings. For noncustodial parents owing or paying child support, this financial obligation must be considered when doing any financial planning or saving. This brief provides a background on child support, and where to find more information.
What is the Child Support Program?
Congress established the Child Support Enforcement (CS) program in 1975 to collect child support payments for children living in single-parent families. It operates as a Federal/State/Tribal/local partnership under Title IV-D of the Social Security Act. The program was designed to recover government welfare spending and to help families leave and/or avoid turning to welfare.
The primary CS goal has remained consistent over the years: helping parents obtain child support. The program’s current focus is on maximizing the amount of support sent directly to families.
In 2009, 92 percent of all child support payments collected by the program went to families. While families receiving public assistance make up only 14 percent of the CS caseload, forty five percent of the child support case load previously received public assistance. Child support is a valuable source of income for these low-income families.
What Services Can Parents Receive from the CS Program?
The CS program can help parents to:
CS programs do not typically provide services related to child custody, visitation, or property distribution. Some CS programs collect spousal support (alimony) when it is included as part of a child support order.
How is Child Support Collected?
State and Federal laws give the CS program many tools to collect child support payments. The most frequently used strategy is through wage withholding, where a portion of the paying parent’s wages are withheld by the employer and distributed to the CS agency to pay child support.
The CS program has other powerful strategies to collect child support payments, including:
What Happens to Child Support Payments that are Received?
Most child support orders require payments be made through the State’s centralized child support disbursement unit (SDU). Payment through the SDU ensures that child support collections are accounted for and that payments are disbursed properly.
The State SDU pays almost the entire amount of the child support payment directly to the family, with some exceptions. If a family is receiving public assistance (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families or TANF), some or all of the child support payment may be kept by the State to repay the State and Federal government for TANF expenditures.
If a family received TANF in the past, some child support collections may be kept by the State to repay past TANF expenditures. If a family has never received TANF, all child support collections are sent to the family.
How Can AFI Projects Help?
AFI grantees may want to refer project participants to their local CS program. The CS program can assess whether or not a child support obligation has been or should be established, and can help to collect child support owed to the family. For the custodial parents and children, child support income can help ensure the family has enough money to set aside earnings for saving. For noncustodial parents, the CS program may be able to work with the individual to develop a repayment plan, forgive arrears, and modify child support orders if the money owed is too much relative to current income and resources.
Where Can I Find More Information About Specific Child Support Programs?
Because State and Tribal laws differ, the establishment, collection, and disbursement of child support is different across jurisdictions. To learn more about the child support program in your jurisdiction, contact your local CS agency.
A list of state CS programs can be found at https://www.acf.hhs.gov/programs/css
A list of Tribal CS programs can be found at https://www.acf.hhs.gov/programs/css/tribal-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