When Can You Collect Child Support?
To become eligible to enforce the payment of child support, you must
obtain a court order issued on the basis of a divorce, dissolution,
establishment of paternity, legal separation, or parental
responsibility. In New York State, parents are liable under the law to
provide child support until their child turns at least 18 years of age.
What amount of child support can you receive?
In some states, including New York State, the minimum amount of child
support awarded by a court is based on a fixed percentage of the
combined parental income and the number of children which support will
be provided for. In New York State, support awards are usually
determined by the following formula:
1 Child = 17% of the combined parental income.
2 Children = 25% of the combined parental income.
3 Children = 29% of the combined parental income.
4 Children = 31% of the combined parental income.
5 + Children = at least 35% of combined parental income.
The following factors will be considered by a court when determining the amount of child support to be awarded:
Government Operated Child Support Enforcement Agencies
The financial resources of the custodial and non-custodial parent, and those of the child;
- The physical and emotional health of the child and his/her special needs;
- The standard of living the child enjoyed when the parents were married;
- The tax consequences to the parties;
- The non-monetary contributions that the parents will make toward the care and well-being of the child;
- The educational needs of either parent;
- Whether one parent’s gross income is substantially greater than the other parent’s gross income;
needs of the other children of the non-custodial parent who are not
involved in the child support action when the money available to
support the other children is less than that available to support the
children in the support action;
- If the child is not on
public assistance, the court will consider extraordinary expenses
incurred by the non-custodial parent when visiting the child or
expenses incurred by the non-custodial parent due to extended visits if
the custodial parent’s expenses are substantially reduced during that
period of time;
- Any other factors the court considers as relevant.
Every state has a child support enforcement program which is federally
funded and required under the Social Security Act to locate absent,
non-custodial parents, establish paternity, and enforce child support
obligations. In New York, the State Office of Child Support Enforcement
supervises the operations of the Child Support Enforcement Unit (CSEU)
and the Support Collection Unit (SCU) which are both responsible for
providing child support collection services. These services include the
above mentioned services as well as obtaining a support order from a
court, reviewing and changing your support order if needed, obtaining
health insurance for the child if necessary, and taking any of these
actions across state lines. Services may be requested directly from
either unit in the county in which you reside (in New York City,
contact the Support Collection Unit at the Family Court in your
Any custodial parent or guardian is eligible for these services. If you
are a public assistance client, these services will be provided
automatically. If you do no receive public assistance, you must request
and complete an application.
You must have a court order to enforce the payment of child support. If
you do not have a court order, the CSEU or the SCU will help you obtain
one. After a court order has been issued, the CSEU or the SCU will
attempt to enforce the collection of any child support payments which
have not been received as well as attempt to enforce future payments.
The CSEU and SCU will also attempt to locate the non-custodial parent
and establish paternity. To assist these agencies, the custodial parent
should supply as much information as possible about the non-custodial
parent. The social security number is one of the most valuable pieces
of information which can be provided. It can usually be found on old
documents such as pay stubs, medical bills, tax returns, some bank
statements, and military records. If the social security number is not
available, try to provide other information about the non-custodial
parent which may include, Department of Motor Vehicle records, parents’
names, the last known home or work address and phone number of the
non-custodial parent, the addresses and phone numbers of relatives or
Once the non-custodial parent is located, some of the techniques used
to enforce child support payments may include wage withholdings and
liens against assets.
Depending upon the state, the maximum application fee charged to obtain
child support services is $25. Some states, including New York State,
do not charge an application fee. States are also allowed to charge for
the cost of providing services. New York State does not charge fees
except for legal assistance provided in court. These fees vary
depending upon the amount of time spent on the case in court.
In New York State, legal fees are not required to be paid for in
advance. Repayment of legal fees is made over a period of time by
deducting a percentage from each child support payment until the total
fee is paid. No other deductions will be made. The Office of Child
Support Enforcement suggests that the non-custodial parent should apply
for legal assistance before filing a petition for a court order.
In New York State, information may be obtained by contacting your local
district CSEU/SCU or the Federal Office of Child Support Enforcement
Regional Representative at: Federal Building, Room 4048, 26 Federal
Plaza, New York, NY 10278 or by calling 212-264-7170. You may also
contact the New York State Office of Child Support Enforcement;
Department of Social Services at 1 Commerce Plaza Albany, NY 12260 or
call 518-474-3487. To apply for these services in New York City contact
Manhattan Support Collection Unit Services at: 60 Lafayette St., 1st
Floor New York, NY 10013 or call 212-385-8218/8219. In New York City,
you may also call the child support hotline at 212-226-7125 or
1-800-846-0773. When calling either of these numbers, your 5 digit
personal identification number and social security numbers are
required. For other states, contact the Social Services Department or
Human Resources Administration in your area.
Interstate Child Support Enforcement
Enforcing child support payments across state lines is more difficult
than enforcing child support payments when all parties live in New
York. However, it can be done. State enforcement agencies work together
in trying to enforce such payments across state lines. In January of
1998 the Uniform Interstate Family Support Act (UIFSA) was enacted.
Under this Act, the first state to retain a court order is the state
that will continue to have jurisdiction (legal authority) over the case
as long as one of the parties continues to reside in the state or if
both parties agree to transfer jurisdiction to another state. This act
ensures that only one valid support order exists since there is more
than one state involved.
Attorneys and Self-Representation
You may elect to hire a private attorney who is paid according to an
hourly rate or receives a percentage of what is collected based on the
required fee. An attorney can perform various services including
You may also contact your local Bar Association or Legal Aid Society if
you cannot afford a private attorney. These attorneys will also
represent you in a court hearing and request enforcement of the
original court order, obtain wage withholdings and judgments against
As another option, the law allows you to represent yourself in family
court. Self-representation also allows you the right to request
enforcement of the original court order, wage withholdings and
judgments against assets.
If you decide to represent yourself in court, become familiar with your
legal rights as a custodial parent. For an introduction to your legal
rights and the steps you should take when attempting to enforce child
support payments, you can contact the Association for Children for
Enforcement of Support Inc. (ACES), at 2260 Upton Avenue, Toledo, OH,
43606. ACES is a not-for-profit national organization that provides
educational information about collecting child support. You can visit
their website at www.childsupport-aces.org or call their information
toll-free hotline at 1-800-738-ACES for information as well.
Private For-Profit Child Support Enforcement Agencies
Other types of agencies which advertise child support enforcement
services are privately owned companies which are not generally
regulated by authorities. Some states do require a collection license,
but this requirement varies from state to state. A collection license
is not required in New York State unless the agency offers general
collection services in addition to child support collection services.
Before using one of these agencies, find out if the agency is required
to have a collection license.
Private companies generally advertise that their collection methods are
less expensive than hiring an attorney and faster than using family
court. However, consumers should be aware that no legal assistance or
advice is included in this service. You will still have to obtain a
court order and you are responsible for any legal expenses which may be
incurred. By signing a contract, you have only given them the "Power of
Attorney" to locate the non-custodial parent and enforce child support
The agency receives payment for its services by collecting the child
support payments directly and deducting a percentage of the amount
received. There are no regulatory guidelines which determine a minimum
or maximum percentage that an agency can charge. Many agencies charge
25% – 30 % of the money that is recovered. In many cases, a deduction
is made for the duration that your child is eligible to receive
support. Some agencies may even charge an application fee and a
processing fee to assist you with filing a court order.
Some agencies that advertise child support collection services do not
provide the actual services. After receiving an application fee, they
may refer you to a general collection agency. Once again, find out if a
collection license is required in that state.
The BBB advises consumers to ask the following questions before signing a contract with a child support enforcement service:
How long have you been in business?
Where are you located – What is your physical address?
Does the agency locate the non-custodial parent, or will it refer your case to a collection agency?
Is the agency required to be licensed?
Is there an initial application or filing fee? If so, how much?
Is there a refund policy for the application or filing fee if the agency is unable to locate the non-custodial parent?
Can the contract be canceled? If so, what are the cancellation requirements?
What percentage will be deducted from each child support payment and for how long?
Are you liable for legal expenses incurred by the agency on your behalf?
If the non-custodial parent relocates without informing you, are
you required to use the agency's services again to locate that parent,
or can you choose another alternative?
How often can I get updates on the status of my case?
Do you initiate legal action against the non-custodial parent and under what circumstances?
When you receive money for me – how long does it take for you to disburse the money to me?
With a few exceptions, (see above 1,4,11,12), all of the above
information should be stipulated in the contract. However, do not take
this for granted. Review the contract carefully. If it does not answer
the above questions, ask the agency to respond in writing.