The content on this page is intended for survivors of domestic violence who are considering filing for—or who would like to know more about—child support. It includes common questions about the process, a diagrammed overview of the process, and links to additional resources.
It can be difficult or dangerous to navigate the child support system to get important financial resources when you have experienced violence or fear violence from the other parent. For helpful information, jump to:
What should I do if I have safety concerns regarding my child support case?
First, identify the type of safety concern you have. For example, you might be concerned that the other parent will find out where you live or that the child support agency will take an enforcement action that will lead the other parent to do something harmful to you or your children. In other cases, you might fear that just opening a child support case alone may put your safety at risk. Once you identify your safety concerns, communicate them to your caseworker. The earlier you let your caseworker know, the better. However, you can communicate your concerns to your caseworker at any point in the case. Your caseworker can help flag your case for family violence and explore what measures can be taken to promote your safety.
If I’m interested in pursuing child support, what can the child support agency do to protect my safety?
At your request, child support agencies can assist in the following ways:
- Keep your address and other contact information confidential so that it is not shared with the other parent
- Arrange for you to provide testimony via phone or video instead of through an in-person appearance in court
- Ensure that you and the other parent are scheduled at separate times for any in-office meetings or DNA testing appointments to establish parentage
- Notify you about how and when the other parent will be contacted when you open a case
- Provide additional precautions that you can take before, during, or after court hearings, such as arranging separate entrances and exits and different arrival and departure times for you and the other parent; having an advocate, friend, or family member with you at court; and letting court security and the bailiff know about safety concerns
A note on address confidentiality: The child support agency can keep your address confidential within the child support process. If you need address confidentiality outside of the child support process, your caseworker can help connect you with your state’s Address Confidentiality Program. If you are pursuing medical support as part of your child support case, ask your caseworker if they can use a substitute address when sending enrollment orders to employers. In some cases, even if the insurance company does not share your address, they may send statements to the other parent, which could include dates, types of treatment received, and medical provider addresses.
Is the information that I give to the child support agency confidential?
Information you provide to the child support agency may be confidential. However, it’s important to consult your caseworker to understand what information is private or public depending on the specific laws and regulations in your state. For more information on state-specific public records statutes, visit this website.
It’s important to know that court documents are public records, so your address can be printed on publicly available court documents unless your case is flagged for family violence. If you are concerned about your information being released, ask your caseworker about filling out an Affidavit of Nondisclosure. The Affidavit of Nondisclosure requests that the court keep your address confidential and is the first step in a receiving a nondisclosure finding from the court.
Do I need a protection order to request any protective/safety measures?
In most jurisdictions, you don’t need a protection order for domestic violence safety measures to be applied to your case. However, policies vary by jurisdiction, so some agencies may require third-party documentation (e.g., protection orders, police or medical records, or a statement from a domestic violence organization). If you have a protection order or any other documentation, it’s recommended that you ensure a copy of the document is in your child support file and remind agency workers whenever you interact with them.
Public Benefits and Child Support
Why am I being told that I need to open a child support case if I receive public assistance benefits?
Historically, the child support program was created to lessen the financial burden on public benefits by supporting families who receive cash assistance. By collecting child support payments from parents who don’t live with their children, the government aims to recover some of the money spent on providing public assistance and benefits to families.
Some federal and state laws require that custodial parents who receive benefits “cooperate” with the child support program in establishing and enforcing a child support order. Nationally, cooperation is required if you receive Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) and Medicaid. Depending on the state you live in, cooperation may be required if you receive food stamps through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) or childcare through the Child Care Subsidy Program. People are usually required to cooperate or will face financial penalties if they do not. However, you can request an exemption from cooperating (called “good cause”) if you have experienced violence or fear violence from the other parent.
What is “good cause” for not cooperating?
Good cause means that you have a good reason to not open a child support case. If receiving child support services can put you or your children in harm’s way, you can request good cause. If you are granted good cause, then you can still receive public benefits without having to pursue child support.
The criteria and process for establishing good cause can vary by state and county. It’s important that you consult your caseworker or the relevant agency to understand specific steps of applying for good cause. When you talk with your caseworker, communicate your concerns and show them any available documentation such as protective orders, police documents, or medical records. If you are working with a domestic violence agency or seeking therapy, consider talking with those professionals to request supporting documentation, such as a letter of support or attestation that you have experienced domestic violence.
Navigating the child support process can be overwhelming if you do not know how it works. The diagram below provides an overview of the child support process along with potential safety measures and considerations to request or ask about during the process. Keep in mind that the process may vary depending on the state or county you are located in.
Read the diagram in text format
Below are brief descriptions of the steps involved in the child support process, which are shown in the diagram above in purple.
- Opening a case: A child support case can be opened by a parent or caretaker (noncustodial or custodial) applying directly with the local child support agency. If the other parent opens a child support case, then you will be asked to cooperate with child support. A child support case can also be opened by a public assistance agency, such as TANF, SNAP, Medicaid, or the Child Care Subsidy Program, if the custodial parent receives those public benefits.
- Locating the noncustodial parent: The child support agency gathers information on the other parent to locate them. This typically involves the child support agency asking the parent opening the case questions about the other parent.
- Establishing parentage: This involves legally identifying the other parent. If parents are married, the spouse of the mother is the presumed parent. It may be possible to challenge that presumption in court, depending on state law. If parents are unmarried, parentage can be established by signing a voluntary Acknowledgement of Paternity document—typically done at the hospital. If parents are unmarried and parentage has not been established voluntarily, it can be established by obtaining a court order.
- Establishing an order: A child support order details the financial obligations that the noncustodial parent has to the custodial parent and their child or children. Depending on where you live, orders may be established by an administrative or judicial process (or both). If your jurisdiction uses an administrative process, you will not be required to go to court to establish a child support order.
- Enforcing an order: The child support agency uses multiple methods to ensure that the other parent follows the child support order. This can include garnishing wages, intercepting federal and state tax refunds, filing liens against property, or suspending licenses. Parents who do not pay can also face contempt-of-court procedures or incarceration. If you are concerned that certain enforcement actions might jeopardize your safety, let your caseworker know and ask whether they can take other enforcement measures that are safer for you and your children.
- Modifying the court order: Child support orders can be modified if there is a change in your situation or that of the other parent. This can include changes in income (e.g., job loss or promotion), changes in household structure (e.g., birth of another child, whether joint or non-joint), the onset of disability, and more. Talk to your caseworker if you have questions about what types of changes may affect your case.
Child support agencies across the country provide individualized support to survivors and their families through specific laws and processes that vary by state. The SAVES Center is a national resource center that provides research, training, technical assistance, policy direction, and collaboration guidance to ensure that every survivor who wants or needs child support receives those services from a trauma-informed and culturally responsive child support program.
The Child Support System
Learn more about the child support system and find information that is specific to your state or jurisdiction in the following resources.
- Contact Information for State and Tribal Child Support Agencies (Office of Child Support Services) includes an interactive map for finding your local child support agency to apply for child support or get help with your case.
- How Does Child Support Work? (Office of Child Support Services) explains how child support works and the general process for establishing and enforcing a child support order.
- Child Support: When You’re Afraid of the Other Parent (The Resource Center on Domestic Violence: Child Protection and Custody) includes general information on options available for survivors who are or are not interested in pursuing child support, along with questions that you can ask child support agencies to ensure safety measures are in place.
- State-specific Legal Information (National Network to End Domestic Violence) provides clear, straightforward descriptions of state laws to know as you navigate the child support system.
- Family Law Videos (National Network to End Domestic Violence) discuss multiple family law topics, including custody, visitation, and child support; divorce; preparing for court; and protection orders—in both English and Spanish.
Domestic Violence Support
If you are experiencing abuse by a partner, these resources can provide support and assistance. For a more comprehensive list of specialized national crisis organizations, consult the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence’s list of resources for victims and survivors of domestic violence.
The National Domestic Violence Hotline (The Hotline) has trained advocates available 24/7 who can provide confidential support including information, safety planning, and connections to resources in over 200 languages. These services are offered to anyone experiencing violence, questioning their relationship, or concerned about a loved one. The Hotline website also contains a directory of local domestic violence services and resources and an interactive tool for creating an individualized safety plan.
- Call: 1.800.799.SAFE (7233)
- TTY: 1.800.787.3224
- Text: “START” to 88788
- Chat live on the website
StrongHearts Native Helpline offers culturally appropriate support and advocacy to Native Americans and Alaska Natives through a 24/7 safe, confidential, and anonymous helpline. They offer Native-centered services such as crisis intervention, safety planning, and support finding local health facilities.
- Call: 1.844.7NATIVE (762.8483)
- Text: 1.844.7NATIVE (762.8483)
- Chat live on the website
The Deaf Hotline has culturally adept and trained advocates available 24/7 who can provide safety planning, crisis intervention, and emotional support in American Sign Language. They offer information and resources on safety planning, crisis intervention, and getting help.
- Call: 206.812.1001
- Connect via an appropriate video platform on the website