Navigating Child Support
Divorced or never-married fathers are often court-ordered to pay child support. Whether the child support order was established through private or Department of Social Services (DSS) mechanisms, most support payments are processed through the Clerk of Court where they are monitored. The following tips may help avoid trouble and provide guidance to navigate the system:
- Establish paternity. While this will obligate you to pay child support, it paves the way for the child to know who his biological father is and to visitation entitlement.
- Before establishing paternity, if in doubt at all, request a DNA test to verify that you are the father. Nearly four out of every ten fathers when tested are not found to be the biological father.
- If/when you are requested to attend a hearing to establish child support, by all means attend the hearing. Avoiding the hearing to establish child support may result in an order being set that is beyond your ability to pay. If you can not attend, compose a written request for a hearing on a future date. Bring documentation showing your current income. Do not overstate your income.
- If you can not pay the entire child support payment due, at least pay a portion of it. Show the court that you are making a good-faith effort. If you consistently can not pay due to a job change or job loss, request a modification to lower the payment amount through DSS or Family Court. See the Pro Se Modification Self Help Guide, Instructions to Completing Forms. Sample letters and forms are below.
- If you have a DSS order and lose your job, notify them immediately. If you have a private child support order, contact the custodial parent as soon as possible should you lose your job. Always document your employment search efforts.
- If you and the mother agree on a visitation schedule, you may be able to include this agreement in a child support order established through DSS. This is only a possibility where the mother and father agree on visitation terms. Sample Parenting Time Guidelines may help mothers and fathers work out a visitation schedule.
- Document payments made and keep receipts of purchases, fees, etc. paid on your child's behalf at the mother's request. Gifts to the child will usually not be counted by the Court in lieu of court-ordered support payments. Therefore, make your court payments first.
- Document when you work and when do and do not work and the reasons why. You may need this detailed information if you are required to attend a hearing.
- Keep a personal file that includes copies of all correspondence with DSS, Family Court, the Clerk of Court's office, the mother, etc. regarding child support and visitation.
- Do not ignore correspondence from official agencies. Attend all scheduled hearings unless the court excuses you.
- Private child-support collection agencies often harass fathers. Contact DSS if you believe you're being harassed. Do not make child support payments through a private child support collection agency. It may not be reported to the Clerk of Court's office and the court may believe you are not making payments. Pay according to the child support the Family Court ordered.