Given that the day-to-day stresses of being both a parent and a provider are only increasing as your child grows older, it may be time to ask your ex for some financial help. If you are interested in getting child support, the following is a checklist outlining steps to take you through the process of requesting and receiving support payments.
1. Locate Your Child's Other Parent
The first step in the process is to make sure you know the location or whereabouts of your ex (his or her address, employer, and other contact information). This step is important, because a court cannot order support payments without this information.
If you do not know this information, you may be entitled to free assistance locating the other parent, through your state child support services agency. These state agencies have several resources through which they can determine your ex's whereabouts including: the Federal Parent Locator Service, credit reporting agencies, utility companies, and the United States Postal Service.
2. Establish Legal Fatherhood (Paternity)
If you and your ex were not married when your child was born or the identity of the child's father is in question, you will have to take steps to establish legal fatherhood or "paternity." In some cases, DNA testing is used to determine paternity, while in other cases the father may sign an acknowledgment of paternity. Paternity generally must be established before courts will determine the issues of child support or custody.
3. Resolve Terms of Child Support Payment
Next, you will want to go to court to get a child support court order. Note that you and your ex can always come to a child support arrangement on your own without involving the courts or a child support services agency. This is referred to as child support by agreement. However, this agreement is not legally binding, and if your ex ends up refusing to pay, a court will not be able to enforce your agreement.
On the other hand, if you have a court order and your ex refuses to pay, the court may impose fees and penalties on your ex. Your state's child support services agency also has a number of methods it can use to enforce the court order, including: the suspension of driver's and professional licenses, interception of tax refunds, and reporting the violation to credit reporting agencies.
To request a court order, you must generally file a petition with the court. The court will then determine the amount of child support that should be awarded by referring to your state's child support guidelines -- essentially a formula used by courts throughout the state to calculate child support. Although judges use the guidelines when making support determinations, they are also allowed to deviate from the formula if it would result in an unfair outcome to one or both parties.
4. Adjust Terms of Child Support Payment
Once you have a court order, you can ask the court to increase or decrease the amount of child support you receive if circumstances in your life or your child's life have changed. This is called a request for child support modification. In general, however, keep in mind that the court usually requires that changes in circumstance be significant or major (such as the loss of a job or a medical disability).
For more general information on requesting and receiving support payments, feel free to check out FindLaw's child support section. You may also want to consider retaining a lawyer who is familiar with the various processes and procedures involved in filing for child support in your state.
Need Help Getting Child Support? Contact a Family Law Attorney
Raising children, especially after a breakup, is one of the hardest challenges for parents trying to pick up the pieces on their own. Courts understand these challenges whenever they consider child support, as this is one way to ensure that non-custodial parents fulfill their obligations toward the care of their children. If your child is not getting child support, or you need to modify an order, an experienced family law attorney can ensure that your rights are protected.