The process of getting child support is a lot easier when you have the right information and step by step instructions.
Step 1: Establish Paternity
Establishing paternity is a legal way of identifying the father of a child born to unmarried parents. This is important for both the father and the mother, and for your child’s future. If the child’s mother is not married when the child is born, the child does not have a legal father. If you weren’t married to your child’s father when s/he was born, either the father or the mother can take steps to establish paternity. The process may begin at any time, until the child becomes an adult.
Establishing paternity gives a child born outside of marriage the same legal rights as a child born to married parents. Children with legal fathers are entitled to benefits through their fathers that may include Social Security benefits, veteran’s benefits and inheritance rights. Children may also benefit by knowing their biological family’s cultural, medical, and biological history.
How to Establish Paternity
There are three ways to establish legal paternity:
- Get married.
If the mother and natural father decide to marry before the child is born, the marriage may create what is called a “presumption of paternity.” Unless a parent or some other interested party later challenges that presumption, the man will be considered the legal father of the child.
But remember, it is necessary to establish paternity if you plan to get married after the baby is born. Plans may change, so it is important to give a child a legal father from the beginning.
- Sign a Voluntary Acknowledgment form or Parentage/Paternity Affidavit.
The process of establishing paternity is easier when the father agrees that he is the legal father. If both parents agree to sign the Voluntary Acknowledgement form or Parentage/Paternity Affidavit, the birth certificate will name the father.
A hospital, midwife, or birthing clinic staff person will help you complete the form, answer questions, and submit the paperwork. Most hospitals, midwives, and birthing clinics can also notarize the form for you. This means that they confirm the form is valid. This form becomes legal once it is notarized and filed at the office of Vital Records or Office of Health Statistics for your state.
If you sign at your child’s birth, you will not need to pay a fee to file the affidavit form. There may be a small fee to later add the father to the child’s birth certificate.
If you do not sign the form when the child is born, you can do it at a later date. You can get the form at the hospital, local health department, child support office, county Registrar of Local Records, County Clerk’s Office, or the state Office of Vital Records.
This option should be used only when both the man and the mother are sure that the man is the only possible natural father of the child.
- Go to court.
This is used when the alleged father refuses to voluntarily acknowledge paternity. The process may determine if a man is the legal father of the child.
If the father is given legal papers to appear at a genetic test or in court and he doesn’t show up, paternity may be established by default. Sometimes a parent may want proof that the man is the biological father of the child before he is named the legal father, and either parent may request genetic testing. The court will issue an order establishing paternity. This may require a genetic test. Most tests take a swab in the mouth from the inner cheeks of the child and each parent. It does not hurt, and they do not take blood for paternity tests.
Each state may have different requirements for establishing paternity, and some situations may be more complicated. For example, if the mother was married to another man. If you need help establishing paternity, contact your local child support office.
Step 2: Get a Child Support Order
You need a child support order to determine how much money your child will receive.
To get this process started and get assigned a caseworker, you need to contact your local child support offices.
Caseworkers in these offices will help you collect child support no matter where the other parent lives. They work with attorneys, law enforcement agencies, and family and domestic courts.
They can help you establish paternity and find a missing parent. The court will then help determine how much child support you can collect based on how much the other parent can afford.
If you already receive public benefits (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families), then you are required to apply for child support (unless the other parent is abusive). Your caseworker can help you get the paperwork started.
What Happens Once You File for Child Support?
The non-custodial parent will be told by the child support enforcement office that you are seeking support for your child. Your caseworker will ask him/her to come in for an interview or let him/her know you are getting a child support order.
Step 3: Collect Support
In most cases, getting a monthly support check for your child goes fairly smoothly. Once the court establishes the amount, the other parent regularly provides support.
What Happens If the Other Parent Won’t Pay?
When a parent is missing or doesn’t want to pay, all states have child support enforcement offices that help. They will track down the parent and order them to pay. There are many ways to get the other parent to pay. These include:
- Withholding income
- Withholding unemployment benefits
- Withholding disability benefits
- Taking money from bank accounts
- Taking money from tax refunds
- Vehicles and other property