Filing for a Child Support Order

Though states do not have identical processes for filing for child support and use different methods for calculating the amount of child support to be paid, all states have child support guidelines that recognize that both parents are financially responsible for their child through the age of 18 years. If you don't have an attorney, you can file for child support yourself. Your state's child support agency can assist you in understanding the process as well as locating a local office. If you receive public assistance, your case will automatically be referred for child support services through the state child support agency.

Steps to Take Before Filing

1. Locate the other parent if his or her whereabouts are unknown. Your state's child support agency can help, using resources such as the Federal Parent Locator Service.

2. Establish paternity. If you were not married at the time the child was born, legal fatherhood, or paternity, must be confirmed. This can be established through a genetic test that checks the father's blood for a DNA match with the child's, or by voluntary, written acknowledgement by the father.

Filing a Request for a Child Support Order

In more than half the states, the process to get child support is handled entirely in the courts. Otherwise, the process will usually happen outside of the judicial system. Your state's child support office, which provides most services at no cost to you, can tell you where to file and which forms to complete.

You will need the following information:

  • Birth certificate for the child
  • Information about the other parent
  • Proof of paternity
  • Records of any past payments
  • Any divorce decree, separation agreement or child support order, if it exists
  • Details about your income and assets
  • Details about your child's expenses, such as healthcare, school fees, daycare or special needs

If you use the services of your local child support agency, then the agency will take the necessary steps with the courts. You will receive notice of your hearing date, which you must attend. If the other parent does not attend the hearing, then a default judgment might be made based on known information.

Determination of Child Support Amount

The judge or official overseeing the case will calculate the amount of child support to be paid by the other parent using the formula and criteria established by the state's lawmakers. This formula must be followed except in limited circumstances. Many states provide online calculators to estimate the amount of child support you can expect to be ordered. The following factors usually are part of the calculation:

  • the child's needs
  • the income and needs of the parent with whom the child lives
  • the paying parent's income and ability to pay
  • the child's standard of living before the divorce or separation, if applicable.

After You Get the Child Support Order

The other parent must pay the amount stated in the child support order every month. The order will tell the other parent how payments should be made; most states have several options for payment, including direct payment to you and automatic deductions from paychecks. If the other parent does not pay the amount ordered, several enforcement actions are possible, including withholding of federal taxes, driver license suspension and property liens. Federal legislation requires district or state attorneys assist in the enforcement of child support orders, and most states have a dedicated child support enforcement agency.

If either parent's situation changes or the needs of the child change, the parent can request that the order be modified. Either parent also can request a review of the order at least every three years. Requests can be made in the same court or office that issued the order, following the state's process.