Getting Child Support Checklist

If you're interested in getting child support, the following is a checklist outlining steps to take you through requesting and receiving support payments.

Given that the day-to-day stresses of being both a parent and a provider only increase as your child ages, it may be time to ask your ex for financial help. After all, both parents have a child support obligation. 

1. Locate Your Child's Other Parent

The first step in the process is to make sure you know the location or whereabouts of your ex (i.e., their address, employer, and other contact information). If you have personal information, such as their birthdate or Social Security number, then that's even better. The more information you have about the parent, the more likely you can locate them. This step is important because a court can only order support payments with this information.

If you do not know this information, you may be entitled to free assistance to locate the other parent through your state child support agency. These state agencies have several resources to determine your ex's whereabouts, including:

2. Establish Legal Fatherhood (Paternity)

If you and your ex were not married when your child was born, or the child's father's identity is in question, you will have to take steps to establish legal fatherhood or "paternity." In some cases, courts use DNA testing to determine parentage, while in other cases, the father may sign an acknowledgment of paternity. Paternity generally must be established before courts determine child support or custody issues.

3. Resolve the Terms of Child Support Payments

Next, you will want to attend family court for a child support court order. You and your ex can always come to a child support arrangement independently without involving the courts or a child support services agency. This is referred to as child support by agreement. However, this agreement is not legally binding. If your ex refuses to pay, neither the court nor a state child support collector can enforce your agreement, and getting child support payments may be complex. That's why it's essential to consider getting a child support order.

4. Enforce Child Support Payments

Once you have a court order and your ex refuses to pay, the court may impose fees and penalties on your ex. The term for past due child support is "arrears." Your state's child support services agency also has a number of child support enforcement methods it can use to enforce the court order, including:

  • Suspension of driver's and professional licenses
  • Interception of tax refunds
  • Garnishment of wages
  • Reporting the violation to credit reporting agencies
  • Withholding of Social Security payments

You must generally file a petition with the court to request a court order. The court will then determine the amount of child support to award by referring to your state's child support guidelines. This is essentially a formula used by courts throughout the state to calculate child support.

The guidelines use many factors in the formula, including parents' income and parenting time. You can use a child support calculator. You can complete the calculator worksheet online to get an idea about the child support amount. Remember that the court considers other factors that the child support calculator may not include. For example, it may not include the costs of medical support and child care.

Although judges use the guidelines when making support determinations, they are also allowed to deviate from the formula if it would result in an unfair outcome to one or both parties.

5. Adjust the Terms of Child Support Payments

Once you have a court order, you can ask the court to increase or decrease the amount of child support you receive if circumstances in your life or your child's life have changed. This is a request for a child support modification. In general, remember that the court usually requires that changes in circumstance be substantial or significant, like the loss of a job or a medical disability.

There are also generally time limits for when you can request a modification. Parents also need to provide proof of the need to change the order. For example, if you change to a lower-paying job, you can present pay stubs as evidence. Or you may have unusual medical expenses that you paid out of pocket. You can submit your medical bills that show what your health insurance/health care did not cover.

Need Help Getting Child Support? Contact a Family Law Attorney

Raising children, especially after a breakup or lousy child custody battle, is one of the most complicated challenges for parents trying to pick up the pieces on their own. Courts understand these challenges whenever they consider child support cases, as this is one way to ensure that non-custodial parents fulfill their obligations toward the care of their children. If your child is not receiving child support, or you need to modify an order, an experienced family law attorney can protect your rights.

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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.

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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.

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