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Child Support Glossary

The following article on child support terminology provides a useful 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


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 support orders are made and enforced by an executive agency rather than by courts and judges.

Administration for Children and Families (ACF)

The agency in the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) that 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 by reason 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, they are said to be "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 ordered by the court to be paid by a parent to help support a child or children. Child support arrangements can be entered into voluntarily or ordered by a court or a properly empowered administrative agency, depending on each state's laws. The support can come in different forms, including:

  • Medical support, where the child is provided with health coverage through private insurance from the obligor-parent or public assistance that is reimbursed whole or in part by the obligor-parent, or a combination thereof.
  • 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 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 by which at least $50 from a child support payment collected on behalf of a public assistance recipient is disbursed directly to the custodial parent. The Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act (PRWORA) of 1996 eliminated the pass-through effective October 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 complainant may also be referred to as the "petitioner."


The formal written document filed in a court whereby the complainant sets forth the names of the parties, the allegations, and the request for relief sought. 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 are allowed to set their own limits provided they do not exceed the Federal limits. Regardless of the number of withholding orders that have been served, the maximum that may be 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 should be effective and enforceable between the same parties at any one time and that 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 Order

A legally binding decision issued by a court of law. Issued by a magistrate, judge, or properly empowered administrative officer. A court order related to child support can dictate how often, how much, what kind of support an obligor-parent is to pay, how long they are to pay it, and whether an employer must withhold support from their wages.

Custodial Party (CP)

The person who has primary care, custody, 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 custody terms (e.g., joint custody, shared custody, split custody) varies from state to state.


The judicial decision of a litigated action, usually in "equitable" cases such as divorce (as opposed to cases in law in which judgments are entered).


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 against whom a civil or criminal proceeding is begun. May also be called a respondent in a civil proceeding.


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

Direct Income Withholding

A procedure where an income withholding order can be sent 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 no pleadings or registration are required. The 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 (e.g., taxes); used to determine the amount of an employee's pay subject to a garnishment, attachment, or child support withholding order.


The court's decision of what should be done about a dispute. For instance, the disposition of the court may be that child support is ordered or an obligation is modified.


The application of remedies to obtain payment of 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, 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: 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; and Guidelines for Child Support Award Amounts, which requires States to use guidelines to determine the amount of support for each family, unless they are rebutted by a written finding that applying the guidelines would be inappropriate to 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.

This helps state and local child support enforcement agencies locate non-custodial parents and putative fathers for the purposes of establishing custody and visitation rights, establishing and enforcing child support obligations, investigating parental kidnapping, and processing 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.

The cooperation of States 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 is operated 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 that 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 October 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
  • Reasonable notice and the opportunity to be heard were given to the parties.

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 to be transferred to the tribunal seeking to make the modification.


A legal proceeding under which part of a person's wages and/or assets is 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. The Family Support Act of 1988 requires States to use guidelines to determine the amount of support for each family unless they are rebutted by a written finding that applying the guidelines would be inappropriate to the case. (See also: Income; Disposable Income; Imputed Income)

Immediate Wage Withholding

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

Imputed Income

Fringe benefits provided to employees that may be taxable but cannot be counted as additional disposable income that is subject to child support obligations. (See also: Disposable Earnings; Guidelines)


As 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, 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 are made from wages or income, as defined in the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act (PRWORA), to pay a debt such as child support. Income withholding often is incorporated into the child support order and may be voluntary or involuntary. The provision dictates that an employer must withhold support from a paying parent's wages and transfer that withholding to the appropriate agency (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 are involved 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 who is recognized by law as the male parent of a child whether biologically or through legal action.


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


A civil action in which a controversy is brought 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 medical or dental insurance coverage is paid by the obligor-parent. Depending on the court order, medical support can be an NCP's sole financial obligation, or it can be one of several obligations, with child and/or spousal support being the others.


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.

Monthly Support Obligation (MSO)

The amount of money an obligor is required to pay per month.

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, is required to meet the financial terms of a court or administrative order.


Amount of money to be paid as support by an obligor parent. 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 to which a child support is owed (also referred to as custodial party when the money is owed to the person with primary custody of the child).


The person who is 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 to be used by all States that standardizes the information used to request income withholding for child support. According to the Uniform Interstate Family Support Act (UIFSA), this form may be sent directly from the initiating state to an obligor-parent's employer in another State. (See also: Direct Income Withholding)


The legal determination of fatherhood. Paternity must be established before child or medical support can be ordered.


Person or organization in whose name child support money is paid.


The person who makes a payment which can be non-custodial parents 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 conduct 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). 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 person alleged to be the 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 remedies stated in the order should not be confirmed or executed. 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 of which is to locate non-custodial parents in order 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 SDNH is operated by the State Employment Security Agency or SESA.)

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, or 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 an action against him or her has been commenced in the court issuing the summons and that a judgment will be taken against him or her if the complaint is not answered within a certain 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) when the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act (PRWORA) was signed 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 a 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 payment that cannot be disbursed 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 a obligor parent lives in a different state than his/her child and the custodial party). Based on model legislation that was drafted by the National Conference of Commissioners on Uniform State Laws 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 UIFSA be adopted, without modification by the state, January 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. May also be called Wage Attachment. In some States, this may be referred to interchangeably as Wage or Income Withholding, while in others, there may be 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. Wage withholding often is incorporated into the child support order 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.

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