Child Support 101.2: Locating a Noncustodial Parent
Child Support 101 is a compilation of online documents that explain the child support process and services. It is broken in to three series: state functions, enforcement and family centered services. The first series, Child Support 101: State Functions, offers information about state child support administration and the basics of child support. The second series, Child Support 101.2: Enforcement, features a collection of documents explaining the many aspects of and options for enforcement of child support. Child Support 101.3: Family Centered Services, the third of the series, is not yet available but will address various issues including child support prevention, fatherhood programs and economic stability. You may view the full contents of this project by visiting the comprehensive table of contents.
One major component of state child support agencies is their parent locator service. State child support agencies follow certain processes to locate parents in order to establish paternity, set orders and collect support payments. However, not all child support cases are handled by the state IV-D agency. Private or non‑IV-D cases, where child support is established and maintained privately, may follow similar procedures even though they do not fall under the same laws and regulations as public cases.
Finding the noncustodial parent’s address, employer, or financial assets is a key step in collecting support for many children. To establish, modify or enforce a child support order, the child support agency must have a current address or employment information for both parents. Sometimes, the custodial parent does not have a current address or other information about the noncustodial parent and the state agency must locate the noncustodial parent through other means.
When a custodial parent is referred to the IV-D agency or applies for IV-D services, the IV-D agency has 20 days to open a case by establishing a case record and, based on an assessment of the case, to determine necessary action. The first step is to solicit necessary and relevant information from the custodial parent and verify that information if necessary. Where there is inadequate information to proceed with the case, the agency must request additional information from other sources or refer the case for further location attempts. States use the information collected through the locate process, including home address, earnings, financial assets, property, medical insurance, and employment information to establish paternity, set the orders, and enforce the support obligation.
To find current location, employer and financial information is the most useful. When the custodial parent does not provide this, state programs use a variety of tools at the federal, interstate, state, and local levels. These include:
- the Federal Parent Locator Service;
- interstate location networks;
- relatives and friends of the noncustodial parent;
- current or past employers;
- the local telephone company;
- the U.S. Postal Service;
- financial references;
- police, parole, and probation records if appropriate; and
- state agencies and departments, as authorized by state law, including those departments which maintain records of public assistance, wages and employment, unemployment insurance, income taxation, driver's licenses, vehicle registration, and criminal records.
When the agency has sufficient information (i.e., noncustodial parent’s social security number and/or date of birth), it uses available automated databases to match with other agencies. If the noncustodial parent’s social security number or date of birth is known, the state agency may use the Federal Parent Locator Service (FPLS), which crosschecks information with the IRS, the Department of Defense, the National Personnel Records Center, the Social Security Administration, the Department of Veterans Affairs, and state workforce agencies.
State child support agencies must access all appropriate location sources within 75 calendar days of determining that location efforts are needed, and ensure that location information is sufficient to take the next appropriate action. States must repeat efforts to locate parents quarterly, or as soon as new information is available, when initial efforts fail.
The state must establish policies defining diligent efforts to serve process for child support. (Service of process is the procedure to give legal notice to the person that a court or administrative proceeding is filed against them and allow them to respond to the proceeding). These policies must include periodically repeating service of process attempts in cases when adequate identifying information exists to reach the noncustodial parent.
State Parent Locator Service
States can also perform locate services through their own automated computer systems. The State Parent Locator Service (PLS) is operated at the state level by individual state child support enforcement agencies. It can be part of a statewide child support enforcement system or a separate process. In either case, the State PLS accesses a variety of automated data matches with the Federal PLS and other state and private sources. The State PLS accesses all relevant sources of information and records available in the state, and in other states as appropriate, for locating custodial parents, noncustodial parents, and children for IV-D purposes.
The State PLS consists of multiple systems and interfaces with the statewide child support enforcement system and is likely to include:
- State Directory of New Hires (database of newly hired employees in the state);
- State Case Registry (central registry of all child support cases); and
- State Disbursement Unit (central unit responsible for distributing child support payments).
States may use the state new hire directory and the National Directory of New Hires (NDNH) to locate parents and employment information. (Employers are required to report all newly hired employees within 20 days of hire). States can also search the case registry for parents who may already have a child support order. Agencies can use data matches with state financial institutions to locate obligors’ assets, and with various other state agency databases, such as state departments of corrections and transportation.
If a parent is located through the data matching process, the automated system will notify the responsible caseworker of the source of the location information (for example, if it came from the FPLS or a state source). Caseworkers can review the information and verify the data with the appropriate sources.
When the agency does not have sufficient information, the caseworker will attempt to use appropriate manual sources, such as the post office, telephone companies, contacting friends and relatives, and more recently, social networking sites such as Facebook.
In cases where the noncustodial parent lives in a different state, the agency must refer the case to the IV-D agency of the other state. The IV-D agency of the other state shall repeat the procedures, as necessary.
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*PLEASE NOTE: The National Conference of State Legislatures is an organization serving state legislators and their staff. We cannot offer legal advice or assistance with individual cases, but we do try to answer questions on general topics.
About This NCSL Project
NCSL staff in D.C. and Denver can provide comprehensive, thorough, and timely information on critical child support policy issues. We provide services to legislators and staff working to improve state policies affecting children and their families. NCSL's online clearinghouse for state legislators includes resources on child support police, financing, laws, research and promicing practices. Technical assistance visits to states are available to any state legisalture that would like training or assistance related to this topic.
The Denver-based child support project staff focuses on state policy, tracking legislation and providing research and policy analysis, consultation, and technical assistance specifically geared to the legislative audience. Denver staff can be reached at (303) 364-7700 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
NCSL staff in Washington, D.C. track and analyze federal legislation and policy and represent state legislatures on child support issues before Congress and the Administration. In D.C., Joy Johnson Wilson and Rachel Morgan can be reached at (202) 624-5400.
The child support project and D.C. human services staff receive guidance and support from NCSL's Standing Committee on Health & Human Services.