Child Support Enforcement Program

The Child Support Enforcement (CSE) program is a federal, state, tribal and local partnership to promote family self-sufficiency and child well-being.  States and some tribes operate child support programs to locate noncustodial parents, establish paternity when necessary, establish orders for child support, collect payments and take enforcement action when necessary.  Child support agencies work across state and tribal boundaries and in some cases work across international boundaries.  The program is designed to ensure that parents provide financial, medical and emotional support for their children.

View the program website

Since its inception, the child support program has evolved from a welfare cost-recovery effort to a family support program. It serves 1 in 4 children—and half of poor children—in the United States. It is one of the largest income support programs for low-income families.  Child support collections can prevent homelessness for many struggling single parent households.   Child support makes up ten percent of income for all poor single parent families, and among poor single mothers who receive it, child support income is 40 percent of total family income—equal to the mothers’ earnings.  Among deeply poor single mothers who receive it, child support is nearly two-thirds of family income. The program is one of the few helping to link low-income fathers to employment and supportive services to assist these noncustodial parents in paying child support and engaging with their children.

The federal government pays the major part of program operating costs. In addition, discretionary funding is available for projects designed to improve the effectiveness of services for children and families. State child support agencies may apply for “Section 1115” grants. In addition, state, tribal and local child support agencies, as well as community- and faith-based organizations, among others, may apply for OCSE Special Improvement Project (SIP) grants.

Funding opportunities for these grants reflect the program’s changing priorities, which are based in part on expanding needs of the customer population.  For example, the program serves diverse groups and those who are vulnerable and underserved. OCSE’s grant priorities also consider research, for example, that shows reliable payment is based upon jobs and parental commitment.  Recently, OCSE awarded grants for projects that focus on various methods of collaboration with courts; improved customer service; and prisoner reentry and employment initiatives for noncustodial parents.

Child Support services are available to custodial parents (anyone with custody of a child who has a parent living outside the household) and noncustodial parents.  People who need child support program services work with their state, tribal or local offices.  Families receiving assistance under the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program receive services automatically. Non-TANF families can apply for services. Access and Visitation grants are available to states to help them connect noncustodial parents with their children.  Non-custodial parents can use the program to establish paternity, establish wage-withholding, to request a review of their support orders if circumstances have changed, and, in certain circumstances, to locate a child whose whereabouts has been hidden in violation of a custody or visitation order.  OCSE collaborates with other federal agencies to help address issues such as health care needs of children and economic needs of homeless veterans.  Currently, many homeless veterans find that their ability to pay child support is compromised by old child support debt.  OCSE has partnered with the Department of Veterans Affairs and the American Bar Association to work on solutions to address unresolved child support issues and promote housing stability for these noncustodial parents.  The collaborations are being piloted in nine urban sites across the country. 

Most domestic violence survivors want to pursue the child support that their children need and deserve if they can do so safely and confidentially.  The CSE Program recognizes the importance of reducing the risk of domestic violence as it establishes and enforces child support obligations, and has been improving the confidentiality and safety of child support procedures, training staff, increasing client education, and providing enforcement options to parents worried that they or their children may be in harm’s way. 

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