How to File for Child Support

Get to Know the Process & What to Expect

Mother holding baby.
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Filing for child support should be a simple, straightforward process. But there's a lot more to it than filling out the paperwork. Learn what's involved, and what you should expect from the moment you decide to file for child support for your baby:

How to File for Child Support

First, you'll need to contact your local Office of Child Support Enforcement. They will work with you one on one to establish and enforce a child support order.

First Things First: What You Need to Know

If you were never married to your baby's father, and you were not married to someone else at the time of conception, the first thing the OCSE will need to do is establish paternity. In some cases, this may mean tracking down the other parent in order to perform genetic testing. (In the event that you were married to someone else around the time your baby was likely conceived, then depending on where you live, the state may presume that your spouse is the biological father. This is known as 'the presumption of paternity.')

If You Don't Know Where the Father Is

If you know who the father is, but you're not sure where he's living currently, the state will help you track him down. Your local Office of Child Support Enforcement will ask you to provide information regarding his most recent address or place of work. In addition, the Federal Parent Locator Service (FPLS), a component of the Office of Child Support Enforcement, will utilize information provided by the National Directory of New Hires (NDNH), State Directories of New Hires (SDNHs), and State Employment Security Agencies (SESAs) to attempt to locate him.

It's worth mentioning, too, that it's not always the fathers; there are plenty of cases where the state needs to locate the biological mother in order to serve a child support order.

Costs and Fees Associated with Filing for Child Support

If you currently receive Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) or Medicaid, you will not be charged a fee.

If you don't receive assistance from these agencies, you may be charged a fee of up to $25 to apply for services through the Office of Child Support Enforcement.

Managing Your Expectations: Be Prepared to Wait

Initially, you will be set up with a case worker who will walk you through the process of establishing paternity, obtaining a legal child support order, and eventually receiving actual child support payments. In some states, parents still receive traditional checks in the mail. But more and more we're seeing states handle child support payments via specialized debit cards. But be warned: the process of filing for child support, from beginning to end, is lengthy. You won't get payments overnight, and you may not even see payments this month or this quarter. It's usually a long, drawn-out process because there are so many separate agencies involved.

Child Support & Visitation Rights

Be forewarned: filing for child support opens the door to regular parent-child visitation since you're officially acknowledging paternity as part of the process. However, that may not be a bad thing! Even if your ex was a poor partner, he or she may grow into a caring and committed parent. And remember: visitation and child support are separate issues in the eyes of the court.

So just because you're filing for child support, that doesn't mean your ex will definitely be awarded visitation.