Every child has the legal right to receive financial support from his or her parents, whether the parents are separated, divorced, or were never married -- even when they live in different states or countries. The responsibility to support a child does not end at the state line. Child support keeps many families from needing public assistance. Child support can also help families leave public assistance. Combined with a parent's wages, child support can make a family self-sufficient. The following information will help you ensure that your child has both parents to look to for support, no matter where the other parent lives.
- What is child support?
- What happens when one parent lives in another state?
- How can I get the Child Support Enforcement Division to help me?
- How do I get a child support order if the parent paying support lives in another state?
- How long will it take to get an order?
- I have a child support order. Now, how do I collect the child support?
- I want to request a change in the amount of my order. How do I do it if the other parent lives in another state?
- Can another state change the amount of my child support order without my consent?
- The parent paying support has moved out-of-state, but I don't know where. What do I do?
- What can be done when the other parent is in the US military overseas?
- What about parents who move as soon as they are notified about enforcement? How will I ever collect my support?
- What can be done if the parent in the other state refuses to pay or pays for a while and then stops?
- What happens if the parent paying support leaves the country?
- The parent lives in a country that has no agreement with any state to enforce child support orders. Is there anything I can do?
- Other information that might be helpful
Child support is financial support, most often a regular payment, that a parent pays when that parent lives apart from his or her child. To help raise the child, the parent who does not live with the child (known as the "noncustodial parent" or the "parent paying support") gives money to the parent who does live with the child (known as the "custodial parent" or the "parent receiving support"). This money is called child support. The parent paying support may also include the child in a health care plan. A court sets the amount of child support that a parent must pay in a child support order.
If a child is born to parents who are married to each other, the husband is the legal father of the child and is legally responsible to support that child. For a child born to parents who were not married to each other, however, paternity must be established before a court can set a child support order. Paternity means legal fatherhood. In Massachusetts, parents can establish paternity by signing a paternity acknowledgment form or by asking a court to establish paternity.
Under federal law, child support enforcement agencies in different states must assist one another in collecting child support and establishing paternity. Collecting child support from a parent who lives in another state usually takes longer and is more difficult than collecting child support when both parents live in the same state.
In Massachusetts, the Child Support Enforcement Division of the Department of Revenue (DOR) assists parents in establishing paternity and child support orders, collecting child support and asking courts to adjust child support orders when circumstances change, even when the other parent lives outside Massachusetts.
DOR provides services to any parent or guardian of a child under 18 years old: mothers, fathers, grandparents and legal caretakers. The Application and Agreement for Child Support Services (PDF) is available online, and you may call Customer Service at 800-332-2733 if you have questions.
If you receive public assistance, your case has already been referred to DOR. Call Customer Service, send an e-mail, or talk to your caseworker at the Department of Transitional Assistance. You do not have to receive public assistance for DOR to help you. It will not cost you any money to apply for child support services from DOR.
When you apply for services, DOR will do their best to help your child get the support to which he or she is entitled. Whether DOR succeeds depends upon how much information you provide, how up-to-date and accurate the information is, whether DOR is able to locate the parent paying support, and what financial resources are available to support your child once DOR locates the parent.
There are two ways:
If the parent has enough contact with the Commonwealth of Massachusetts (for example, if the child was conceived here, the parent paying support lived with the child here or sent the child to live here), DOR can ask a Massachusetts court to set an order for child support.
If not, DOR can send a legal document called an interstate petition to the state where the parent paying support lives to ask the child support agency there to establish a child support order.
If you were never married to the other parent of your child, DOR can help you to establish paternity using either of these methods as well.
If DOR asks another state to establish paternity or a support order using an interstate petition, that state will use its own process for establishing paternity and a child support order, which may be different than Massachusetts' process.
It usually takes longer to collect child support from a parent who lives in another state than it does to collect child support when both parents live in the same state. The amount of time varies from case to case. It will go faster if you provide DOR with as much information about the other parent as possible:
- full name
- full address
- Social Security number
- date of birth
- physical description and photograph,
- employer's name and address,
- other income and property information,
- telephone number (including area code),
- names of the parents of the other parent
- motor vehicle information (year, make, model, registration/license number and state registration), and
- any other information you have that will help DOR locate the other parent.
If you provide DOR with copies of any divorce orders, separation papers, restraining orders, birth certificates for the children or other related documents, that also helps move the process along.
If you live in Massachusetts and the parent is employed in another state, DOR can have the child support taken out of his or her regular pay check. If the parent does not pay, DOR can also try to enforce your support order by seizing or placing liens on any property the parent owns in Massachusetts. In addition, DOR can ask any other state where the parent lives, works or owns property to enforce the order and collect the support.
Changing the amount of a child support order is called a modification or adjustment of the order. If there is a change in a parent's income or the child's needs, the amount of aid support order can be raised or lowered by a judge. Either parent can ask DOR to review the child support order if one of them thinks the order needs to be adjusted. DOR will review it to determine whether the facts support the need for a change, and if so, DOR will help you go to court to ask that the order be adjusted. If you want DOR to review your case, call Customer Service at 800-332-2733, (local callers, 617-660-1234), or download a modification request form from our website and follow the instructions.
Both parents have the right to request a modification or adjustment in the child support order. If the other parent makes such a request, you will be notified and have the opportunity to oppose any changes.
If you have reason to believe that the parent lives in a certain state, DOR can ask the child support agency in that state to take action to locate the parent there. If you do not know where the parent lives, DOR will begin to search for him or her by reviewing the databases available to us. However, DOR also needs your help. DOR has a better chance of finding the parent if you provide any information that you have about the parent. For the most helpful pieces of information, see the list set out earlier in the answer to the question, " How long will it take to get an order?"
If the other parent is stationed overseas, DOR generally handles the case as if he or she were simply living in another state. Processing a case in which the other parent is stationed overseas can be difficult, however. It is very important for you to provide DOR with all the information available to you.
Some parents move to avoid paying child support, but new laws have improved DOR's ability to enforce child support orders across state lines. Catching up with parents who hop from job to job and from state to state can still be difficult, but new laws and new technology make it harder for these parents to avoid their obligations to their children. DOR will pursue collection of your child support using all available resources.
DOR can ask the state where the parent lives, works, or owns property, to enforce the child support order. Once DOR has made a request, the other state will use the enforcement measures available in that state to collect your support. Every state has the legal authority to take child support out of the parent's paycheck and to place liens on personal and real property (such as bank accounts, rental property, cars, or boats).
In addition, state and federal laws make it a crime to willfully fail to pay support for a child living in another state. DOR consults with the U.S. Attorney or District Attorney in these cases. The law enforcement agency involved in these cases decides whether or not to prosecute.
Massachusetts has agreements with many foreign countries to enforce child support orders made here or in the other country. The United States Secretary of State has similar agreements with other countries. If your child's other parent leaves the United States, you will need to provide DOR with as much information as possible about the parent and his or her address and place of employment. If the parent works for an American company or for a foreign company with offices in the United States, DOR may be able to collect the support from his or her wages.
When a parent lives in a country that has no agreement with us or any other state, it is particularly difficult to enforce an order for child support. DOR is trying to improve this situation and to get more countries to enter into agreements to enforce child support orders. If your child's other parent lives in a country with no such agreement, you should try to learn as much as possible about his or her plans to travel back to the United States. You can write to the Office of Citizens Consular Services at the U.S. State Department, Washington, D.C. 20520 for a list of attorneys in that country if you want to try to enforce the order yourself.
- A Paternity Guide for Unmarried Mothers
- A Paternity Guide for Unmarried Fathers
- A Paternity Guide for Unmarried Parent
- Child Support: When the Parent Paying Support Lives in Massachusetts