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How Do I Find a Parent for Child Support?

Courts often order divorcing parents to come to an agreement for child support payments for their minor children. This is also true for parents who have never been married. These arrangements order one parent to pay the other on a monthly basis. The parent with physical custody of the child gets the child support from the other parent in many cases. The judge considers the parent's income and the child's needs to set the amount of child support. The state comes up with child support guidelines. Remember, your gross income consists of more than just your regular salary and wages. Money and benefits like worker's compensation and Social Security benefits qualify.

If the court ordered your ex to make payments to you, but they are failing to pay, you may be looking for solutions to enforce your child support order. This is also true for medical support orders. You may have a separate medical support order for your child's health insurance and health care in some cases. The state can enforce medical support, just like child support, by ordering income withholding.

Parents who evade paying their child support obligations are commonly referred to as "deadbeat" parents. Before you can enforce the child support order and collect past due support, you will first need to find your obligated ex. You may also need to find them if you must establish paternity. The court uses genetic testing to resolve paternity. But you must know their whereabouts before you can test them.

This article provides general information about how to find a parent for child support, whether the other parent is ducking their responsibility or denies paternity.

How To Find Parents for Child Support: General Guidelines

Regardless of your state's laws, the best way to find an elusive, obligated parent is to gather as much personally identifying information as possible. You aren't expected to produce their birth certificate. But gather as much data as possible. If the parent is a former spouse, some of this information may be easier to find.

You may be eligible to use your state child support services agency for free help. Many states require families enrolled in certain public assistance programs (like TANF and Medicaid) to open a child support case. Part of the agency's role is to help locate the non-custodial parent. They can use their access to resources, including credit reporting agencies, utility companies, and the United States Postal Service to track down the co-parent.

The following types of information may help state authorities or caseworkers find an otherwise unresponsive parent:

  • Social Security Number
  • Address or P.O. Box Number
  • Names of the obligated parent's friends, employers, coworkers, or family members who may have relevant information
  • Copy of the order for child support
  • The date of birth of the obligated parent
  • Addresses of past and/or present workplaces or residences, with their employer's name(s)

Additionally, the Federal Parent Locator Service (FPLS) maintained by the Office of Child Support Enforcement (a division of the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services) assists state child support programs by collecting data from various sources. State child support agencies use data compiled through the FPLS to establish paternity and find deadbeat parents.

Finding a Deadbeat Parent: State Procedures and Tactics

Federal law is the glue that helps state child support offices come together and coordinate with each other for child support matters. However, the rules and procedures for child support enforcement come from state law. States often use tools such as a withholding order or wage garnishments and the withholding of state benefits to enforce orders. Some enforcement methods include:

  • Holding the delinquent parent in “contempt of court"
  • Denying the parent a U.S. passport
  • Freezing bank accounts or accounts from other financial institutions
  • Placing liens on their property
  • Suspending their driver's license or professional license
  • Intercepting tax refunds

One popular method is to put the names and pictures of deadbeat parents, along with the amount owed, on billboards or websites. See the Delinquent Parents site maintained by the Illinois Dept. of Healthcare and Family Services, for example. But while states have several different enforcement procedures, they are all meant as incentives. They are not necessarily effective at finding deadbeats who are on the run or in hiding.

The State and Tribal Child Support Agency Contacts directory maintained by the federal government provides more information on how to find a parent for child support.

How To Find a Parent for Child Support in Another State

States have jurisdiction and the resources to track down deadbeat parents who live in the same state as the other parent. In other words, it's easier if you both live in Mississippi. However, it's much more difficult to enforce a child support order when the obligated parent crosses state lines, even if the court orders child support. The federal Full Faith and Credit for Child Support Orders Act requires states to enforce valid child support orders from other states. However, actual enforcement is another matter. Often, the deadbeat parent is able to elude authorities until they're stopped by police for a routine traffic stop. Some delinquent deadbeat parents work for cash to avoid wage garnishment. It doesn't matter what state they're in.

In practice, parents who are unable to find an out-of-state deadbeat parent nearly always do the investigative work themselves or hire a private investigator (P.I.). Some P.I.s have licenses to operate in more than one state. Also, you may be able to recover the cost of hiring a P.I. from the obligated parent.

Trying To Find a Parent? A Child Support Attorney Can Help

Child support payments are absolutely critical to parents struggling to make ends meet while covering the costs associated with parenthood. You can't cover child care, health insurance, and high school tuition on your own. So, when an obligated parent fails to do their share, it can cause major hardship in the family. Getting legal advice from a legal professional can help you get your court-ordered support. An experienced child support attorney will be able to work the system to get your child the financial support they deserve.

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