National Child Support Enforcement Program

Background

The timely receipt of child support is critical for millions of Michigan families. The nation's Child Support Enforcement Program (CSE) is a federal/state/local partnership to help families locate non-custodial parents, establish paternity when necessary, establish orders for support and collect child support payments for families.

All states and some tribes have a child support enforcement program, often run with the help of prosecuting attorneys, district attorneys, other law enforcement agencies and officials of family or domestic relations courts. Families seeking government child support services must apply directly through their state/local agency or one of the tribes running the program. The most recent state reported data shows that nearly $18 billion in child support payments was distributed through these programs. The total child support caseload was over 17 million.

Services are available to a parent with custody of a child who has a parent living outside of the home. Child support payments that are collected on behalf of such families are sent to the family.

Services are also available automatically for families receiving assistance under the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program. Current child support collected reimburses the state and federal governments for TANF payments made to the family. Those not receiving public assistance can apply for child support services.

The Federal Office of Child Support Enforcement (OSCE) maintains a website that is always available to give general child support information. It also provides access to state child support agency websites. The OCSE site provides general answers to many questions that families have about the program. Questions about specific cases are best answered by the state child support agency since states are responsible for the day-to-day administration of the program. Click here to find out more.

General Information

The Child Support Enforcement Program provides four major services to its customers:

  • locating non-custodial parents
  • establishing paternity
  • establishing support orders
  • collecting support payments

The program also provides services to non-custodial parents. States offer access and visitation services through federal grants.

Locating Non-Custodial Parents - Child support enforcement officials use information from the highly computerized State and Federal Parent Locator Services (FPLS) to locate parents. Last year, the FPLS processed more than four and a half million cases.

Establishing Paternity - Legally identifying a child's father is called establishing paternity. This is the necessary first step for obtaining an order for child support when a child is born out of wedlock. Establishing paternity can also provide a child with access to Social Security benefits, pension and retirement benefits; medical insurance and health information; and important interactions and relationships with both parents.

Many fathers voluntarily acknowledge paternity. But in disputed cases, father, mother, and child may be required to submit to genetic tests. The genetic test results are highly accurate. States must have procedures that allow paternity to be established up to the child's eighteenth birthday. Hospitals must give fathers the opportunity to acknowledge paternity voluntarily at the time of birth. Last year, about 1.6 million paternities's were established and acknowledged. Of these, nearly 700,000 were voluntarily acknowledged in a hospital at the time of birth.

Establishing Support Orders - States must have guidelines to determine how much a parent should pay for child support. Child support orders can be established by a court or by an administrative hearing process. Provisions for health insurance coverage must be included in the support order.

Collecting Support - A parent can be made to pay child support through income withholding. In fact, over 60 percent of all child support is paid through income withholding. Overdue child support can be collected from federal and state income tax refunds. Liens can also be placed on property, and the property itself sold to pay the past due child support. Unpaid child support can be reported automatically to credit reporting bureaus. Drivers, professional, occupational and recreational licenses can be suspended if the obligated parent is not paying required support. The US State Department will deny a passport to someone who owes more than $5000 in back child support. Child support agencies have agreements with financial institutions to freeze and seize accounts of those owing back child support.

States have uniform interstate laws that make it easier to collect support across state lines. There are registries of newly hired employees to speed collection of support. There is also a special effort, in certain states and under certain circumstances, where criminal actions can be taken against chronic delinquent parents who owe large sums of child support. More information is available from your state child support agency.

Services for Non-Custodial Parents - States receive grants from the Federal government to help with non-custodial parents' access to and visitation with their children. Each state operates such programs under very broad guidelines. These projects provide mediation, counseling, parenting education, visitation programs, and the development of visitation and custody guidelines.