If you are a single parent with full custody of your children, you are entitled to child support payments from the noncustodial parent. These payments, which are usually made on a monthly basis, are based on the child's needs and the parent's income. But you may have to locate a parent first in order to enforce a child support order, especially if he or she has attempted to avoid the financial responsibility of raising children (often referred to as a "deadbeat parent").
This article provides general information about finding a noncustodial parent for the purposes of collecting child support. Each state enforces support orders in slightly different ways, so you may want to consult with a child support lawyer in your area for specific advice. See FindLaw's Child Support subsection for additional articles and resources, including Enforcement and Collection of Back Child Support.
How to Locate Parents: General Guidelines
Regardless of your state's laws, the best way to find an elusive noncustodial parent is to gather as much personally identifying information as possible. If the parent is a former spouse, some of this information may be easier to find. The following types of information may help state authorities or caseworkers find an otherwise unresponsive parent:
Additionally, the Federal Parent Locator Service (FPLS) maintained by the Office of Child Support Enforcement (a division of the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services) assists state child support programs by collecting data from various sources. State agencies use data compiled through the FPLS to establish paternity and find deadbeat parents.
Finding a Deadbeat Parent: State Procedures and Tactics
Child support enforcement is handled at the state level, and often uses tools such as wage garnishments and the withholding of state benefits to enforce orders. But different states have different ways to help custodial parents find noncustodial parents who are evading payment. One popular method is to put the names and pictures of deadbeat parents, along with the amount owed, on billboards or Websites (Washington State's DCS Most Wanted page is one such example). But while states have several different enforcement procedures, they are all meant as incentives and are not necessarily effective at finding deadbeats who are on the run or in hiding.
See the Office of Child Support Enforcement's State and Tribal Child Support Agency Contacts directory for more information on how to locate a parent for child support.
How to Locate a Parent in Another State
States have jurisdiction and the resources to track down deadbeat parents who live in the same state as the custodial parents. However, it is much more difficult to enforce a child support order when the noncustodial parent crosses state lines, even if court orders are issued. Often, the deadbeat parent is able to elude authorities until he or she is stopped by police (a routine traffic stop, for instance) and checked for outstanding warrants. Some delinquent noncustodial parents work for cash in order to avoid wage garnishment, regardless of which state they are in.
The federal Full Faith and Credit for Child Support Orders Act requires states to enforce valid child support orders from other states, but actual enforcement is another matter.
In practice, custodial parents who are unable to find an out-of-state deadbeat parent usually must either do the investigative work themselves (made easier using the Internet) or hire a private investigator (PI). Some PIs are licensed to operate in more than one state. Also, you may be able to recover the cost of hiring a PI from the noncustodial parent.
Get Professional Legal Help With Your Child Support Issues
Child support payments are absolutely critical to custodial parents struggling to make ends meet while covering the costs associated with parenthood. So when a noncustodial parent fails to do their share, it can cause major hardship in the family. An experienced child support attorney will be able to work the system to get your child the financial support they deserve.