State governments work very hard to help parents collect child support payments, as nobody wants to see a child go hungry. State child support enforcement agencies will often step in to help parents, especially those that would struggle to hire a lawyer.
Here are some of the typical tasks an agency can help with :
1. Establishing parentage
In normal situations, only a parent can be forced to pay child support. For obvious reasons, it is fairly easy to establish a child’s mother. The woman that gave birth is going to almost always be immediately deemed the legal mother. Fatherhood is more complicated. The law in most states assumes that when a married woman gives birth, her husband is the father.
For unmarried parents, it is more difficult. An unmarried father can be established by agreement and by filing an acknowledgement of paternity with the state. In other cases, paternity may be either in doubt or the putative father may deny paternity. The mother may need to get a court to order a DNA test and the state agency can help.
2. Establishing or modifying Child Support order
Due process is needed before a court will order one parent to pay child support to the other. One parent, usually only the parent with custody, will file for child support in court. Sometimes the parents can agree on a child support order, otherwise, the amount is often set using a formula based primarily on each parent’s income. This process may require finding a parent that has not been in contact with the child, and state child support enforcement agencies will often help with that, too.
As circumstances change over time, a child support order may need to be modified to account for changes in income or other differences, and state agencies will often help with that as well.
3. Collecting on a Child Support order
Once a parent is required to pay, actually getting the money can be the hard part. Child support enforcement agencies are perhaps most commonly used to help collect. Agencies can often help garnish wages, intercept tax refunds, or put a lien on big property items (like a home). If all else fails, some state agencies can even begin the process of putting a parent in jail for nonpayment.
4. Offer services to both parents fairly
Child support agencies will usually offer services to a parent that owes child support as well. This can include, for example, helping a parent lower his or her child support obligation after losing a job. The agency can usually help parents that are trying to catch up on unpaid support.
Agencies will usually not stray from their mission to help children get their support.
To take Georgia as an example, which is a fairly typical agency, they have an explicit list of things they will not help with. This includes divorce, custody, visitation, unpaid bills (other than child support), spousal support (alimony) unless directly tied to child support, or retroactive child support (trying to collect for the time before child support was ordered).