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Child Support Laws


Child support laws are the state rules that govern the collection and distribution of money for child-related expenses paid from a non-custodial parent (the parent who doesn't have custody of the child) to the custodial parent. Although state courts have jurisdiction over child support decisions, federal child support guidelines encourage states to have policies in place regarding many issues, such as establishing paternity, ordering support, and collecting support. These laws may vary from state to state.

Facts about child support law

The custodial parent is entitled to child support by law, whether it's needed or not. Child support lasts until a child is considered an adult (usually age 18, but this varies by state).

Child support orders are court orders and will be enforced. The Child Support Enforcement Program (CSE)- a federal, state, and local partnership-provides government assistance in obtaining child support. CSE services include locating non-custodial parents, establishing paternity, and securing and collecting child support.

Child support may not be terminated until the child reaches the age where support is no longer legally required.

Federal child support laws

Federal laws require states to establish laws in the following areas:

  • Child support award amounts. States decide on a formula or schedule to determine the amount of support to be paid and how this amount can be revised.
  • Income withholding (also called wage assignment). States establish regulations regarding how child support amounts may be withheld from a non-custodial parent's paycheck.
  • Enforcement. States decide how a state child support enforcement agency may collect overdue support. Measures may include reducing state income tax refund amounts, withholding income, filing liens against property, suspending a driver's or professional license, or seizing bank accounts of a non-custodial parent.
  • Paternity. States decide how and when genetic testing is required, what to do when voluntary paternity is established, and how paternity may be contested.
  • Review and adjustment of support orders. States determine how, when, and for what reasons support amounts may be adjusted.
  • Health care. States create rules that determine how health-care coverage for the child is provided.

Additional resources:

Cornell University Law School: U.S. Code Collection (federal laws) (

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services: Administration for Children and Families (Office of Child Support Enforcement Fact Sheet) (

American Bar Association Family Legal Guide (see Family Law chapter) (

Divorce Support (Support Award Schedules) (

Related Legal Guides:

Back Child Support (

No Child Support (

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