The first step in collecting child support involves the establishment of paternity if the child was born out of wedlock. This means determining who fathered the child. The parent must furnish the caseworker with detailed information about the putative or alleged father and about her pregnancy, birth of her child, and relationship with the father. The parent may also have to provide information on any financial support offered by the father or any other act acknowledging paternity (i.e. gifts to the child). In contested cases of paternity, a parent can ask for a blood test. If the parent is not sure which of her former partners was the father, a genetic test of each one of the potential fathers may be required.
The second step involves consulting the mandatory state child support guidelines to determine the fair amount of payment that a non-custodial should make. Child Support Enforcement (CSE) offices can provide parents with a figure of the support award amounts fixed by their state as well as request medical assistance for their child and locate the non-custodial parent if his or her whereabouts are unknown. To obtain a child support order, the parent should contact the child support office in their area. Finally, upon obtaining the order, the parent may eithe enforce it by way of a local child support enforcement agency, a state or local government child support office, or an attorney.
Pending the final outcome of a child custody or dissolution proceeding, a party may move for a temporary child support order. Courts rely on federally-mandated support schedules to set the sum of child support to be awarded. Typically, these temporary orders are valid until the parties settle the case through alternative dispute resolution or another hearing. Usually, a party must complete an Application for Order to Show Cause as well as an Order to Show Cause, which orders the spouse to appear in court and state why the child support order should not be granted.
The duty to provide child support is not restricted to married individuals. All parents are obligated to financially support their children. A parent who is not married to the child's father or mother may either file a complaint for support or a complaint to establish paternity.
Some states have a State Parent Locator Service (SPLS) to assist in locating non-supporting and absent alleged parents and parents by employing all useful private and public locator sources, such as the Federal Parent Locator Service (FPLS). To locate a non-custodial parent for purposes of child support, the SPLS acts upon a request from one of the following sources: 1) the custodial parent, 2) a court, or 3) a local or state agency seeking to enforce child support. With a fee as small as $10 and the non-custodial parent's social security number, a custodial parent can utilize SPLS. Some of the information that the custodial parent may have to furnish a child support agency to help find the other parent include the latter's full name, social security number, birth date, last known phone number and address, relatives' addresses and names, and mother's maiden name. Records such as the marriage certificate and the child's birth certificate, as well as financial information such as bank accounts, insurance documents, and tax filings are often helpful in locating the other parent. If the child's father is in the armed forces, the other parent may obtain his current address from the federal government.
To obtain child support, it is primordial that paternity be established. Upon the establishment of paternity, a child support order is issued. There are some cases in which a man is presumed to be the father, as for instance, if he married the mother following the child's birth and consented to support the child or to place his name on the birth certificate. If paternity is not voluntarily acknowledged by either the parents' agreement or admission by the father, the custodial parent may ask the court for genetic tests to be performed on the putative father, the child, and the mother. These tests are highly reliable in ascertaining the likelihood of a man's paternity. If the tests conclude that a particular individual is the father but the latter denies it, a hearing or trial will be set to establish paternity. Either the mother or the father may bring a paternity action by filing a suit in court. If the party establishes paternity, the father will be required to pay child support.
There are three avenues by which the parents may reach a consensus on child support amounts:
The parties may engage in informal negotiations among themselves to work out an acceptable solution with or without legal assistance. Ideally, an agreement is memorialized in writing, and for formalizing a settlement, it is often advisable to solicit the services of an attorney. The agreement is then submitted to the court for its approval on the basis that it adequately provides for the child's needs, comports with the guidelines, was not signed under duress, and was understood by the parties.
The child support guidelines take into consideration factors such as the number of children and the parties' income. A judge will arrive at a dollar figure for child support by ensuring that it meets the state's child support guidelines.
A third option is an ADR process such as mediation, which avoids the adversarial element of litigation and enables an expeditious and fair settlement. In contrast to a court setting, both parties are active participants in decision-making relating to child support.
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