Child support is the financial support paid by parents to support a child or children of whom they do not have full custody.
Child support can be entered into voluntarily, by court order or by an administrative agency (the process depends on the state or tribe). Child support is an important source of income for millions of children in the United States. Child support payments represent on average, 40 percent of income for poor custodial families who receive it, and lifted one million people above poverty in 2008.
States play an important role in collecting child support. All states and territories operate a child support enforcement program. At a minimum, services offered in all child support programs include locating noncustodial parents, establishing paternity, establishing and modifying support orders (including medical support), collecting support payments and enforcing child support orders, and referring noncustodial parents to employment services.
State legislatures can set important child support policy. The legislature may determine what type of calculation to use in determining income to establish the amount of the child support order as well as what type of enforcement mechanisms to use.
Legislators and other policymakers are re-examining the goals of the program and the constituents it serves to better tailor services to meet the needs of the population. Enforcement programs are being more carefully targeted to the specific types of families involved in the programs. State and communities are experimenting with a variety of programs to assist low-income fathers in meeting their child support obligations.
Child Support 101
Child Support 101: State Functions
Child Support 101.2: Enforcement
Legislative Tracking and Summaries
Family Centered Services
Family Law and Domestic Violence
Child Support Digest
*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 policy, financing, laws, research and promising practices. Technical assistance visits to states are available to any state legislature 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 email@example.com.
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. Staff in D.C. can be reached at (202) 624-5400 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
The child support project and D.C. human services staff receive guidance and support from NCSL's Standing Committee on Health & Human Services.