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
For more information or to request technical assistance on state or federal child support policies and programs, please send a message to Children & Families staff. As a membership organization serving state legislators and legislative staff, we do not respond to inquiries or provide legal advice related to individual child support or family law cases.