How can I collect child support?

Read this in: Spanish / Español

Learn 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. #3812EN

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

Yes, if you live in Washington State and you want child support for your children. Learn how you can get help collecting child support and can get some protection from the other parent if you're afraid for your safety, and what to do if you want to get more child support.

The Division of Child Support (DCS) is the state agency that collects child support. They collect when a child gets welfare payments or Apple Health or is in foster care, or when you ask DCS for help collecting support.

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

Once there is a support order, DCS can collect by taking (garnishing)

  • pay from a job, called wages
  • unemployment benefits
  • Labor and Industries (L & I) payments
  • some Social Security payments
  • bank accounts
* DCS cannot garnish SSI or welfare payments.

DCS can also take income tax refunds and place liens on real and personal property so that the parent who owes child support cannot sell off property without DCS finding out and asking for child support to come out of the sale.  

Maybe. DCS has a locator service.

No. DCS can still help set support.

Probably. DCS will refer the case to the prosecuting attorney's office. They will file a court case asking for a court order of parentage and support.

Usually, no. If you've never gotten TANF or tribal TANF, there can be a small yearly fee for services.

Yes. You should give your DCS worker whatever information can help. If you have a support court order, give them a copy. If you have these, you should also give the other parent's most recent address, Social Security number, current employer and rate of pay, and other financial information, such as identification of bank accounts or other assets.

Maybe! DCS can take funds from bank accounts and maybe other types of property, such as boats and cars. They can also ask for the parent's federal tax refund.

DCS can have the parent's driver or other type of license taken away (suspended). A judge can hold that parent in contempt and send the parent to jail.

No. 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.

It depends. To get Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), you must sign over your right to get child support to DCS. (See below about cooperation and good cause.) DCS gets and keeps support that would come to you if you weren't getting assistance. DSHS can keep only what reimburses them for the TANF they paid you. 

If the amount of support the other parent is supposed to pay is more than the TANF you get, and DCS collects that support amount for 2 months in a row, your TANF will stop. You'll get support payments instead of TANF as long as DCS can collect that support amount.

If you've never gotten public assistance, you're entitled to everything DCS collects, current or back support.  DCS often also collects unpaid back support, called "arrears.

If you've gotten public assistance in the past but don't get it now, the state can keep the back support 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 first. Then it can keep 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 DCS worker how DCS is paying out back support in your case. Get legal advice if you believe DCS is keeping money that belongs to you.

Yes. With every support check you get, DCS should send you this information. You can also call 1-800-442-5437 to check on this information.  

Ask DCS for a Notice of Objection form to fill out and return to the nearest DCS office. This is how you ask for a hearing. You should get notice of the hearing date, time, and place in a few weeks. Bring to the hearing any proof of DCS' mistake.

Maybe. You can petition to change (to modify) the support order if, for example, the paying parent is making more money, the support order is old, or the children's needs have changed. Read Change Your Child Support Order and Asking DCS to Review Your Child Support Case for Modification to learn more.

Fill out DCS' Petition for Modification form DSHS 09-280B. You can find it on DSHS's Electronic DSHS Forms page in English and Spanish. You'll send this completed form to the DCS office or DSHS Board of Appeals.  At a hearing, an administrative law judge (ALJ) will decide if you should get more child support.

Yes. If you cannot get a lawyer, try filing the papers yourself. Some volunteer lawyer programs have classes to help with child support modification. You can also ask DCS to file a modification on your behalf. Read Asking DCS to Review Your Child Support Case for Modification to learn more.

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

If you're 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. Read more about good cause on DSHS's Domestic Violence Informationpage. Download DCS' good cause form #18-344 on DSHS's Electronic DSHS Forms page.

Give DCS any evidence of why you're afraid, such as medical records, protection orders, criminal records, or police reports. If you don't have such records, your sworn statement might prove good cause.

If DCS decides you must cooperate anyway, they may threaten to lower your grant. Then you should ask for a hearing. An ALJ will decide if you must cooperate.

DCS may decide you don't have to cooperate but they can try to collect support without danger of harm to you or the children. You can also appeal that decision. You should keep getting your usual amount of assistance until the hearing decision.

Maybe not. Even if you cooperate with DCS, they can 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 let you ask for a hearing to keep DCS from giving it out. You can appear at the hearing by phone. You don't have to say where you're calling in from.

Get Legal Help

Visit Northwest Justice Project to find out how to get legal help. 

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Last Review and Update: Dec 01, 2023
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