Law in Plain Language: Child Support

Experts say that unpaid child support is a prime reason that more than one in five American children live in poverty. According to an Urban Institute study, children in single-parent families would get $34 billion if all child-support obligations were met.

Parents have the legal right to request the assistance of the State in establishing child support orders and enforcing payment. Private lawyers and companies also provide these services, but only for a cost with uncertain results. Before turning to private sources, parents should be aware of the alternatives. Any Connecticut resident, as provided under federal and state law, may avail themselves of the same child support services as are provided to public assistance recipients.

The Family Support Magistrate Division of the Superior Court has jurisdiction over child and spousal support matters involving people receiving benefits under the Temporary Family Assistance (TFA) or medical public assistance programs or those receiving payments in the foster care program. Family Support Magistrates also preside over cases involving those who have applied to the Office of Child Support Services within the Department of Social Services for child support enforcement services. Matters involving any of these four categories are classified as IV-D cases because the procedures are governed by Title IV-D of the federal Social Security Act.

The Attorney General's Office, the Office of Child Support Services within the Department of Social Services and Support Enforcement Services within the Judicial Branch all participate in Title IV-D proceedings concerning the establishment, enforcement and modification of child support orders when a party to the proceeding is receiving IV-D support enforcement services. We are also involved in establishing paternity and child support orders for residents of other states and countries who are seeking support from a Connecticut parent under the Uniform Interstate Family Support Act (UIFSA), which provides for the establishment and enforcement of child support obligations when one of the parties lives outside of Connecticut.

Support orders entered by a Family Support Magistrate have the same force and effect as support orders entered by a Judge of the Superior Court and involves the same process. Accordingly, Title IV-D services provided by the State through the Family Support Magistrate Division include, but are not limited to, the establishment of paternity and child support orders,  the modification of existing support orders and initiating appropriate enforcement proceedings, such as the bringing of contempt motions, the placement of statutory liens on real and personal property, the interception of state and federal income tax refunds, the certification of the names of delinquent child support obligors to credit reporting agencies, the suspension of automobile operator and occupational licenses, the use of an automated absent parent locate system, and the necessary legal services incident to such proceedings.

If you are in need of child support services, and particularly if your family cannot afford private lawyers or companies, Connecticut offers effective and comprehensive services. By utilizing the state's services, you do not run the risk of a private company going bankrupt after having collected a steep application fee, but before your case is brought to court.  Also, use of the services available through the state allows you to know that all of the child support awarded by the Court will be retained by you, and a percentage of that award will not be taken as payment for services from a private company or attorney. In many cases, those fees are paid regardless of whether support is granted.

There may be times, however, when an informed parent may deem it advisable to pursue private remedies. In such situations, the availability of an aggressive and competent private attorney or collection company could prove beneficial.  However, Connecticut strives to fulfill its responsibility to protect the rights of its residents and, although private attorneys or collection companies may do an effective job of obtaining child support obligations, the state provides comparable services at no cost.

If you would like further information regarding child support, please contact your local Office of Child Support Services (Department of Social Services) office or write me, Attorney General William Tong, at 165 Capitol Avenue, Hartford, CT 06106. Remember, you have rights too.