Child Support Glossary

This article on child support terminology provides a helpful guide to some terms you may encounter when going through the child support process, whether you're the parent asking for child support or the one being asked to pay child support.


Child Support Glossary: Terms to Know


The sum of child support payments that are due or overdue.


The entry of a judgment, decree, or order by a judge or other decision-makers, such as a master, referee, or hearing officer, based on the evidence submitted by the parties.

Administrative Procedure

The method by which an executive agency makes and enforces support orders. Instead of courts and judges making/enforcing orders.

Administration for Children and Families (ACF)

The agency in the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) houses the Office of Child Support Enforcement (OCSE).

Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC)

Former entitlement program that made public assistance payments on behalf of children who did not have the financial support of one of their parents because of death, disability, or continued absence from the home; known in many states as ADC (Aid to Dependent Children). Replaced with Temporary Aid to Needy Families (TANF) under the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act (PRWORA).


Past due, unpaid child support owed by the obligor-parent. If the parent has arrearages, the child support is "in arrears."

Assignment of Support Rights

A legal procedure where a person receiving public assistance agrees to turn over to the state any right to child support. This includes arrearages, paid by one parent to the other in exchange for a cash assistance grant and other benefits. States can then use a portion of said child support to defray or recoup the public assistance expenditure.

Burden of Proof

The duty of a party to produce the greater weight of evidence on a point at issue.

Child Support

Financial support that the court orders the parent to pay to help support a minor child or children. Parents can voluntarily enter into child support arrangements. Or the court can order a parent into the arrangement. Or a properly empowered administrative agency can, depending on each state's laws. The support can come in different forms, including:

  • Medical support where the child gets health coverage/health insurance through private insurance. Comes from the obligor-parent. Or public assistance that is reimbursed in whole or in part by the obligor-parent, or a combination.
  • Monetary payments. In the form of a one-time payment, installments, or regular automatic withholdings from the NCP's income. Or the offset of state and/or Federal tax refunds and/or administrative payments made to the NCP, such as Federal retirement benefits.

Child Support Enforcement (CSE) Agency

State agencies that provide child support services. Provide referrals. Locate non-custodial parents (NCPs) or putative fathers (PF). Establishes, enforces, and modifies child support; collects and distributes child support money. Operated by state or local government. According to the Child Support Enforcement Program guidelines as set forth in Title IV-D of the Social Security Act. Also known as an "IV-D Agency." (See also: IV-D)

Child Support Pass-Through

Provision where a child support recipient/public assistance recipient receives at least $50 from a child support payment. Goes directly to the custodial parent. The Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act (PRWORA) of 1996 eliminated the pass-through effective Oct. 1, 1996. A few states have elected to retain the pass-through, paying it out of state rather than federal money. Also known as child support "disregard." (See also: Public Assistance)


A person who seeks to initiate court proceedings against another person. In a civil case, the complainant is the plaintiff; in a criminal case, the complainant is the state. In some states, the court may also refer to the complainant as the "petitioner."


The formal written document filed in court. The complainant sets forth the names of the parties, the allegations, and requests for relief. Sometimes called the initial pleading or petition.

Consent Agreement

Voluntary written admission of paternity or responsibility for child support.

Consumer Credit Protection Act (CCPA)

The federal law that limits the amount that may be withheld from earnings to satisfy child support obligations. States can set their own limits provided they do not exceed the Federal limits. Regardless of the number of withholding orders served, the maximum withheld for child support is:

Without arrearage:

  • 50% with a second family
  • 60% Single

With arrearage:

  • 55% with a second family and 12+ weeks in arrears
  • 65% Single 12+ weeks in arrears

Continuing Exclusive Jurisdiction (CEJ)

Only one support order is effective and enforceable between the same parties at any one time. And when a particular court has acquired jurisdiction to determine child support and custody, it retains authority to amend and modify its orders therein. This Court of Continuing Exclusive Jurisdiction (CCEJ) continues to have jurisdiction over a support issue until another court takes it away. Defined in the Uniform Interstate Family Support Act (UIFSA). (See also: Uniform Interstate Family Support Act)

Court Hearing

Any formal proceeding before the court. A case on the court docket. A parent may have to attend a hearing to establish, enforce, or modify child support.

Court Order

A legally binding decision issued by a court of law. Issued by a magistrate, judge, or properly empowered administrative officer. Can dictate how often, how much, and what kind of support an obligor-parent pays. And whether an employer must withhold support from their wages.

Custodial Party (CP)

The person who has primary care and control of the child(ren).

Custody Order

A legally binding determination that establishes with whom a child shall live. The meaning of different types of child custody terms (e.g., joint custody, shared custody, split custody, physical custody) varies from state to state.


The judicial decision of a litigated action. Usually in "equitable" cases such as divorce. Instead of cases in law in which courts enter judgments.


A written statement made under the penalty of perjury. Used if you are requesting the judge to establish child support. Or to modify an existing child support order.


The failure of a defendant to file an answer. Or appear in a civil case within the prescribed time after having been properly served with a summons and complaint.


The person sued in a civil proceeding. The person accused in a criminal proceeding. The court may refer to them as "respondent" in a civil proceeding.


A child who is under the care of someone else. Most children who are eligible to receive child support are dependents. To qualify as a dependent, the child is younger than 19 or a "student" younger than 24 years old. Additionally, a permanently or totally disabled child is always a dependent.

Direct Income Withholding

A procedure where the party can send an income withholding order directly to the obligor parent's employer in another state. Without the need to use the IV-D Agency or court system in the NCP's state. This triggers withholding unless the NCP contests. And it requires no pleadings or registration. The Uniform Interstate Family Support Act does not restrict who may send an income withholding notice across state lines. Although the sender will ordinarily be a child support agency or the obligee, the obligor or any other person may supply an employer with an income withholding order. (See also: Income Withholding; Wage Withholding)


The paying out of collected child support funds.

Disposable Income

The portion of an employee's earnings remaining after deductions required by law. For example, taxes. Used to determine the amount of an employee's pay is subject to a garnishment, attachment. Or child support withholding order.


The court's decision of what to do about a dispute. For instance, the court may order child support. Or modify a child support order.


The application of remedies to obtain payment for a child. Or medical support obligation contained in a child and/or spousal support order. Examples of remedies include garnishment of wages, seizure of assets, liens placed on assets, levying bank accounts, revocation of license (e.g., drivers, business, medical, etc.), denial of U.S. passports, etc.


The process of proving paternity. And/or obtaining a court or administrative order to put a child support obligation in place.

Family Support Act

Law passed in 1988, with two major mandates:

  1. Immediate Wage Withholding, unless courts find that there is good cause not to require such withholding, or there is a written agreement between both parties requiring an alternative arrangement.
  2. Guidelines for Child Support Award Amounts, which requires states to use child support guidelines to determine the amount of support for each family, unless a written finding supports the idea that applying the state child support guidelines would be inappropriate in the case.

Federal Parent Locator Service (FPLS)

A computerized national location network. Operated by the Federal Office of Child Support (OCSE) of the Administration for Children and Families (ACF). Within the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS). FPLS obtains address and employer information as well as data on child support cases in every state, compares them, and returns matches to the appropriate states. Helps state and local child support enforcement agencies locate non-custodial parents and putative fathers for the purposes of establishing custody and visitation rights. Establishes and enforces child support obligations. Investigates parental kidnapping and processes adoption or foster care cases. The expanded FPLS includes the Federal Case Registry (FCR) and the National Directory of New Hires (NDNH).

Federal Tax Refund Offset Program

A program that collects past-due child support amounts from obligor-parents through the interception of their federal income tax refund or an administrative payment such as federal retirement benefits. This program also incorporates the Passport Denial Program which denies U.S. passports at the time of application when the applicant's child support debts exceed $2,500. In the future, the program will expand to include the revocation and/or restriction of already-issued passports. State cooperation in the submittal of cases for tax interception is mandatory while the submittal of cases for administrative interception is optional. The Federal Tax Refund Offset Program operates in cooperation with the Internal Revenue Service, the U.S. Department of Treasury's Financial Management Service (FMS), the U.S. Department of State, and State Child Support Enforcement (CSE) Agencies.

Foster Care

federal-state program. Provides financial support to a person, family, or institution that is raising a child or children that are not their own.

Full Faith and Credit

The doctrine under which a state must honor an order or judgment entered in another state.

Full Faith and Credit for Child Support Orders Act (FFCCSOA)

Law effective Oct. 20, 1994, which requires states to enforce child support orders made by other states if:

  • The issuing state's tribunal had subject matter jurisdiction to hear and resolve the matter and enter an order
  • The issuing state's tribunal had personal jurisdiction over the parties
  • The issuing state gave the parties reasonable notice and the chance to present their views and objections
  • FFCCSOA also limits a state's ability to modify another states' child support orders in instances when:
  • The state tribunal seeking to modify the order has jurisdiction to do so.
  • The tribunal that originally issued the order no longer has continued, exclusive jurisdiction over the order either because the child and the parties to the case are no longer residents of the issuing state, or the parties to the case have filed written consent to transfer continuing exclusive jurisdiction transferred to the tribunal seeking to make the modification.


A legal proceeding under which part of a person's wages and/or assets are withheld for payment of a debt. This term usually specifies that an income or wage withholding is involuntary. (See also: Income Withholding; Wage Withholding; Direct Income Withholding; Immediate Wage Withholding)

Genetic Testing

Analysis of inherited factors to determine legal fatherhood or paternity.


A standard method for setting child support obligations. Based on the income of the parent(s) and other factors determined by state law. Family Support Act of 1988 requires States to use guidelines to determine the amount of support for each family. Unless a written finding renounces the application of the guidelines. (See also: Income; Disposable Income; Imputed Income)

Immediate Wage Withholding

An automatic deduction from income starts as soon as the court establishes the agreement for support. (See also: Income Withholding; Wage Withholding)

Imputed Income

Fringe benefits provided to employees. Taxable income but cannot count as additional disposable income subject to child support obligations. (See also: Disposable Earnings; Guidelines)


Defined by the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996 (PRWORA). Income is any periodic form of payment to an individual regardless of source. Including wages. salaries, commissions, bonuses, worker's compensation, disability, pension, or retirement program payments, and interest. All income (except imputed income; see above) is subject to income withholding for child support purposes pursuant to a child support order but is protected by Consumer Credit Protection Act limits, both Federal and State. (See also: Consumer Credit Protection Act; Disposable Earnings; Guidelines)

Income Withholding

The procedure by which automatic deductions come from wages or income. As defined in the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act (PRWORA). To pay a debt such as child support. The child support order can incorporate income withholding or income withholding can be voluntary. The provision says that an employer must withhold support from a paying parent's wages and transfer that withholding to the appropriate agency. Either the Centralized Collection Unit or State Disbursement Unit. Sometimes referred to as Wage Withholding. (See also: Wage Withholding; Direct Income Withholding, a type of interstate Income Withholding; Immediate Wage Withholding)


A method of securing child support by taking a portion of non-wage payments made to an obligor-parent. Non-wage payments subject to interception include federal tax refunds, state tax refunds, unemployment benefits, and disability benefits. (See also: Federal Tax Refund Offset Program)

Interstate Cases

Cases in which the dependent child and obligor-parents live in different states or where two or more states factor in some case activity, such as enforcement.


The official decision or finding of a judge or administrative agency hearing officer upon the respective rights and claims of the parties to an action; also known as a decree or order and may include the "findings of fact and conclusions of law."

Judicial Remedies

A general designation for a court's enforcement of child support obligations.


The legal authority which a court or administrative agency has over particular persons and over certain types of cases, usually in a defined geographical area.

Legal Father

A person that the law recognizes as the male parent of a child whether a biological father or through legal action. Father of a child.


A claim upon a property to prevent the sale or transfer of that property until a debtor satisfies the debt.


A civil action in which a party brings a controversy before the court.


The process by which a non-custodial parent (NCP) or putative father (PF) is found for the purpose of establishing paternity, establishing and/or enforcing a child support obligation, establishing custody and visitation rights, processing adoption or foster care cases, and investigating parental kidnapping.

Locate Information

Data used to locate a Putative Father (PF) or non-custodial parent (NCP). May include their Social Security Number (SSN), date of birth (DOB), residential address, and employer.

Medical Support

Form of child support where the obligor-parent pays medical or dental insurance coverage. Depending on the court order, an NCP's sole financial obligation is medical support. Or the NCP might have to pay for child and/or spousal support as the other.

Monthly Support Obligation (MSO)

The amount of money an obligor must pay per month.


An application to the court requesting an order or rule in favor of the party that is filing the motion. Motions are generally made in reference to a pending action and may address a matter at the court's discretion or concern a point of law.

Non-Custodial Parent (NCP)

The parent who does not have primary care, custody, or control of the child, and may have the obligation to pay child support. Also referred to as the obligor. (See also: Custodial Party)


A term meaning that one parent, the obligor must meet the financial terms of a court or administrative order.


Amount of money an obligor parent must pay as support. Can take the form of financial support for the child, medical support, or spousal support. An obligation is a recurring, ongoing obligation, not a one-time debt such as an assessment.


The person, State agency, or other institution entitled to child support. (also referred to as custodial party when the person is the one with primary custody of the child).


The person obliged to pay child support.

Office of Child Support Enforcement (OCSE)

The Federal agency responsible for the administration of the child support program. Created by Title IV-D of the Social Security Act in 1975, OCSE is responsible for the development of child support policy; oversight, evaluation, and audits of State child support enforcement programs; and providing technical assistance and training to the State programs. OCSE operates the Federal Parent Locator Service, which includes the National Directory of New Hires (NDNH) and the Federal Case Registry (FCR). OCSE is part of the Administration for Children and Families (ACF), which is within the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS).


Amount of money intercepted from a parent's State or Federal income tax refund, or from an administrative payment such as Federal retirement benefits, in order to satisfy a child support debt.


The direction of a magistrate, judge, or properly empowered administrative officer. (See also: Court Order and Support Order)

Order/Notice to Withhold Child Support

The form all states use that standardizes the information used to request income withholding for child support. According to the Uniform Interstate Family Support Act (UIFSA), you may send this form from the initiating state to an obligor-parent's employer in another state. (See also: Direct Income Withholding)


The legal determination of fatherhood. The parent or court must establish paternity before a party can order child or medical support.


The name of the person or organization that the obligor pays the child support money to.


The person who makes a child support payment. The non-custodial parent or someone acting on their behalf, or a custodial party who is repaying a receivable.


A person who brings an action; the party who complains or sues in a civil case.


Statements or allegations, presented in logical and legal form, which constitute a plaintiff's cause of action or a defendant's grounds of defense.


The conducting of business before a judge or administrative hearing officer.

Public Assistance

Benefits granted from State or Federal programs to aid eligible recipients (eligibility requirements vary between particular programs). For example, Medicaid. Applicants for certain types of public assistance (e.g., Temporary Assistance to Needy Families or TANF,) are automatically referred to their State IV-D agency to identify and locate the obligated parent, establish paternity, and/or obtain child support payments. This allows the state to recoup or defray some of its public assistance expenditures with funds from the obligor-parent.

Putative Father (PF)

The alleged father of the child but who has not yet been medically or legally declared to be the Legal Father. (See also: Legal Father; Paternity; Genetic Testing)


A person or organization that receives support funds and/or Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) payments.


The party answering a petition or motion.

Service of Process

The delivery of a writ or summons to a party for the purpose of obtaining jurisdiction over that party.

Service by Publication

Service of process accomplished by publishing a notice in a newspaper or by posting on a bulletin board of a courthouse or other public facility, after a court determines that other means of service are impractical or have been unsuccessful. This procedure is not legal in every state.

Show Cause

A court order directing a person to appear. And bring forth any evidence as to why the court should not confirm or execute remedies stated in the order. A show cause order is usually based on a motion and affidavit asking for relief.

Spousal Support

Court-ordered support of a spouse or ex-spouse; also referred to as maintenance or alimony.

State Parent Locator Services (SPLS)

A unit within the state Child Support Enforcement Agencies. The purpose is to locate non-custodial parents to establish and enforce child support obligations, visitation, and custody orders or to establish paternity. This unit operates the State Case Registry (SCR) and in most states, the State Directory of New Hires (SDNH). In some States, the State Employment Security Agency or SESA operates the SDNH.

Support Order

A judgment, decree, or order, whether temporary, final, or subject to modification, issued by a court or an administrative agency of a competent jurisdiction, for the support and maintenance of a child. This includes a child who has attained the age of majority under the law of the issuing state, or of the parent with whom the child is living. Support orders can incorporate the provision of monetary support, health care, payment of arrearages, reimbursement of costs and fees, interest and penalties, and other forms of relief. (See also: Obligation; Obligor)


A process issued by a court compelling a witness to appear at a judicial proceeding. Sometimes the process will also direct the witness to bring documentary evidence to the court.


A notice to a defendant that the court has commenced an action against them and that the court will make a judgment against them if the complaint is not answered within a specific time.

Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF)

Time-limited public assistance payments made to poor families, based on Title IV-A of the Social Security Act. TANF replaced Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC — otherwise known as welfare). This happened when the legislature signed the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act (PRWORA) into law in 1996. The program provides parents with job preparation, work, and support services to help them become self-sufficient. Applicants for TANF benefits are automatically referred to their State IV-D agency in order to establish paternity and child support for their children from the obligor parent. This allows the state to recoup or defray some of its public assistance expenditures with funds from the obligor parent.

Third-Party Liability

A category under which the state pays the difference between the amount of the medical bill and the amount the insurance company has paid. This occurs only when a public assistance recipient has medical insurance in addition to the coverage provided by the public assistance program.


The court, administrative agency, or quasi-judicial agency authorized to establish or modify support orders or to determine parentage.

Two-State Action

Action a state must file under the Uniform Interstate Family Support Act (UIFSA) guidelines when it does not have Long Arm Jurisdiction (i.e., cannot legally claim personal jurisdiction over an obligor parent who lives in another State). This is usually in cases where a state is trying to establish an initial child support order on behalf of a resident custodial party. Other actions, such as requesting wage withholding or reviewing and/or revising an existing support order, do not require a Two-State Action even if the initiating state does not have Long Arm Jurisdiction.

Unclaimed Funds

Support payments that cannot reach the payee because the identity of the payor is unknown, or the address of the payee is unknown.

Uniform Interstate Family Support Act (UIFSA)

Laws enacted at the state level to provide mechanisms for establishing and enforcing child support obligations in interstate cases (when an obligor parent lives in a different state than his/her child and the custodial party). Based on model legislation that the National Conference of Commissioners on Uniform State Laws drafted to revise and replace URESA. The provisions of UIFSA supersede those of URESA, although some URESA provisions may remain in effect (some states have rescinded all of URESA, while others have left in place those provisions not specifically superseded by UIFSA). PRWORA mandated that all states adopt legislation requiring that they adopt the UIFSA without modification by the state, Jan. 1, 1998. Among the law's provisions is the ability of State IV-D agencies to send withholding orders to employers across state lines (see also Direct Income Withholding).

Wage Assignment

An agreement by an employee to transfer (or assign) portions of future wage payments (e.g., insurance premium deductions, credit union deductions) to pay certain debts, such as child support. Alternate name: Wage Attachment. Some States, use "Wage Assignment" and "Wage or Income Withholding" interchangeably while others make a distinction. The most common term used is Wage or Income Withholding. (See also: Wage Withholding and Income Withholding)

Wage Withholding

A procedure by which scheduled deductions are automatically made from wages or income to pay a debt, such as child support. Child support orders often incorporate wage withholding and may be voluntary or involuntary. The provision dictates that an employer must withhold support from an obligor parent's wages and transfer that withholding to the appropriate agency (the Centralized Collection Unit or State Disbursement Unit). Also known as Income Withholding. (See also: Income Withholding; Direct Income Withholding)

Get Professional Legal Help With Your Child Support Issues

Many aspects of the child support process can become really confusing, really quickly. No matter which side you are on, you should know the laws of your state and how they apply to your situation. The best way to learn this information is to get a legal advocate on your side who knows the ins and outs of child support. Start the process today by contacting a local family law attorney.

Was this helpful?

Can I Solve This on My Own or Do I Need an Attorney?

  • Some states allow you to set up child support with forms and court processes
  • You may need legal help to set up or modify child support arrangements
  • If there is conflict, an attorney can advise if the other parent’s actions are legal 

Get tailored advice about paying or receiving child support. Many attorneys offer free consultations.

Find a local attorney

Don't Forget About Estate Planning

Once new child support arrangements are in place, it’s an ideal time to create or change your estate planning forms. Take the time to add new beneficiaries to your will and name a guardian for any minor children. Consider creating a financial power of attorney so your agent can pay bills and make sure your children are provided for. A health care directive explains your health care decisions and takes the decision-making burden off your children when they become adults.

Start Planning