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How Can I Collect Child Support?

Authored By: Northwest Justice Project LSC Funded
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This provides information on how the Division of Child Support (DCS), whose services are free, can help you set and collect child support. There is a locator service to help find parents who owe support. DCS can help you set child support even if the other parent of your children does not live in the state. Publication #3812EN

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Intro

Read this if both these are true: 

  • You are a parent.

  • You want to get child support for your children. 

Where else can I get info?

*If you have questions about your situation, talk to a lawyer.

What is DCS?

The Division of Child Support (DCS) is the state agency that collects child support.  DCS collects when

  • A child gets wel­fare payments or is in fos­ter care.

  • You ask the state for help collecting support 

How do I get a child support order?

DCS can set the support amount through its own administrative system unless (or until) a court sets support. 

How can DCS help me collect support?

Once there is a child support order, DCS can collect by garnishing

  • wages

  • unemployment benefits

  • Labor and Industries pay­me­nts

  • some Social Security pay­ments

  • bank accounts

DCS can also

  • take in­come tax refunds

  • place liens on real and personal prop­erty

What if I do not know where the other parent is?

DCS has a locator service to help find parents who owe support.

What if the other parent does not live in Washington?

DCS can still help you set support.

What if we have not established paternity of the child yet?

DCS will refer the case to the prosecuting attorney’s office for a court order of paternity and support.   

Does DCS charge for its services?

Usually, no.  If you have never gotten TANF or tribal TANF, there is a small yearly fee for services. 

Can I help DCS?

Yes. You should give the support enforcement officer (SEO) assigned to your case whatever info can help them.  If you have a child support court order, such as a divorce decree, give the SEO a copy.  Other info that could help includes the other parent’s

  • Most recent address

  • Social Security number

  • Current employer and rate of pay

  • Other financial info, such as identification of bank accounts or other assets

DCS may ask you to update this info.

How does DCS collect child support?

Usually by wage withholding (garnishing).  This means taking the support directly from the other parent’s paycheck.  DCS can also take support payments from other sources of income. See “How can DCS help me collect support,” above.

*DCS cannot garnish SSI or welfare payments. 

If the other parent is not working, or has no other regular income, DCS can

  • Take funds from bank accounts and, sometimes, other types of property, such as boats and cars. 

  • Ask for that parent’s federal tax refund. 

Where a parent who can pay does not, DCS can have their driver's or professional license suspended.

The other parent can pay. What if s/he simply refuses to?

A judge can hold that parent in contempt and send the parent to jail.

How do I keep track of payments?

The state’s Washington State Support Registry does this.  Its records are the best way to know if someone has paid or owes support. If the other parent ever pays you directly, tell DCS so their payment records are accurate.

I get public assistance. Can I get support?

To get Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) cash assistance, you must assign your rights to get child support to DCS. (See below about cooperation and good cause.)  This entitles DCS to get and keep support that would come to you if you were not getting assistance.  DSHS can keep only as much support as the amount of your TANF grant. 

If the current support obligation is more than your TANF, and DCS collects that support amount for two months in a row, your TANF will stop.  You will get support payments instead of TANF as long as DCS can collect that support amount.

Do I have a right to back support?

If you have never gotten public assistance, you are entitled to everything DCS collects, current or back support.  DCS often also collects unpaid back support, called “arrears.” 

If you have gotten public assistance in the past but are not getting it now, the state can keep the arrears that built up while you got assistance. Arrears that have built up since you last got public assistance belong to you. DCS should pay you before it keeps any arrears that belong to the state.

Arrears that built up before you went on public assistance may come to you or go to the state, depending on when they built up and how DCS collects them.  Usually, arrears collected by wage withholding go to you. Arrears collected by income tax refund intercept usually go to the state. 

*Ask your SEO how DCS is distributing arrears in your case.  Get legal advice if you believe DCS is keeping arrears that belong to you.

What if I disagree with DCS?

With every support check you get, DCS should send you info about the support it has collected every few months. You can also check your payment history online at https://secure.dshs.wa.gov/home/default.aspx?rfs=PleaseLogin.

If you disagree with DCS’ calculations or how they have distributed support, ask them for a Notice of Objection form to fill out and return it to the nearest DCS office.  This is how you ask for a hearing.  You should get notice of the hearing date/time/place within a few weeks.  Bring to the hearing any papers showing how DCS’ mistake.

Can I get more support?

Maybe. You can petition to modify (change) the support order to a higher amount if:

  • The paying parent’s finances have gotten better since entry of the child support order.

  • The support order is old.

  • The children’s needs have changed.

  • There are other reasons. 

Can the other parent ask to pay less child support?

Yes.  A paying parent whose financial situation has gotten worse since the original support order can petition to pay less support. 

DCS set the support amount. How do I ask for more support?

Fill out DCS’ Petition for Modification form. Here it is in English: https://www.dshs.wa.gov/sites/default/files/ESA/dcs/documents/09-280b.pdf. Here it is in Spanish: https://www.dshs.wa.gov/sites/default/files/ESA/dcs/documents/09-280BSP.pdf.

Send it to the DCS office or DSHS Board of Appeals.  At a hearing, an administrative law judge (ALJ) will decide whether to increase the support. 

A court set support. Do I have to go back to court if I want more support?

Yes. 

If you cannot get a lawyer, you can try to file the papers yourself, or ask a courthouse facilitator for help.  Some volunteer lawyer programs have classes teaching people how to do child support modifications in court. 

You can also ask DCS to file a modification action on your behalf.  DCS must review support orders periodically and change them up or down depending on the situation.

What if collecting support could harm my child or me?

Normally, in return for welfare payments, you must cooperate with DCS’s efforts to get child support from the other parent.  If this could place you or your child in danger, DCS may excuse you from cooperating (called good cause). 

If you are concerned for your or your children's safety, tell your welfare worker you believe you have good cause not to cooperate with support enforcement efforts.  Show them any evidence of the reasons you are afraid, such as:

  • medical records

  • protection orders

  • criminal records

  • police reports

If you do not have such records, your sworn statement might be good cause. DCS’ good cause form is here: https://www.dshs.wa.gov/sites/default/files/ESA/dcs/documents/18_334.pdf.

If the state decides you must cooperate anyway and threatens to lower your grant, you can have a hearing about whether you have good cause not to cooperate.  DSHS may also decide you do not have to cooperate BUT they can try to collect without danger of harm to you or the children. You can also appeal that decision.  You should keep getting your normal amount of assistance until the hearing decision.

I fear for my safety. Does DCS have to tell the other parent where we are living?

Even if you agree to cooperate with DCS, you can have them keep your location from the other parent if you have well-founded safety concerns.  If the other parent asks DCS for your child's address, DCS should tell you and give you the chance to ask for a hearing to keep them from giving it out.  You can appear at the hearing by phone from an undisclosed location.

DCS has more info about good cause at http://tinyurl.com/ofmqxof.

What rights do I have for interpretation and translation services?

A.  Interpreters for Legal Proceedings

In any legal proceeding started by DCS, a prosecuting attorney, or other governmental body, you have the right to have a qualified interpreter appointed and paid for if one of these is true:

  • You cannot speak or understand English easily.
  • You have a communication-related disability.

If you speak limited English, for legal proceedings not started by DCS, a prosecuting attorney, or other governmental body, you still have the right to have an interpreter appointed. You may have to pay for one.  You should not have to pay for an interpreter if you need one due to a disability.

If you or your witness(s) cannot easily understand or communicate in spoken language because of a hearing or speech impairment, you have the right to have an interpreter appointed and paid for in both civil and criminal proceedings.

If any time during a legal proceeding you do not feel the interpreter is doing a good job, you have the right to ask for another one.

B.  Communications with DCS

DCS must provide an interpreter if your ability to communicate in English is limited.  You should ask for an interpreter every time you talk to DCS.

You should also get translations of any forms that could affect your rights. Be sure to ask DCS to have all your forms translated.

DCS must provide these interpreter and translation services as soon as possible.  Do not sign any form or make a written agreement unless you completely understand it.

 

3812EN

This publication provides general information concerning your rights and responsibilities.  It is not intended as a substitute for specific legal advice. 
This information is current as of September 2017.

© 2017 Northwest Justice Project — 1-888-201-1014.
(Permission for copying and distribution granted to the Alliance for Equal Justice and to individuals for non-commercial purposes only.)

Last Review and Update: Sep 26, 2017
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