Family Law

Public Assistance and Child Support

Parents have a basic duty to support their children. Sometimes, a parent may need to reach out for public assistance, often when a child's non-custodial parent does not pay child support. A federal program, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF)provides cash assistance for families with children in need.

Receiving TANF or welfare benefits isn't a substitute for child support. To the contrary, efforts may just be starting up to get children the support they're entitled to. Learn more about the relationship between public assistance programs and child support.

TANF Help Has Limits

TANF benefits are limited in several ways. Benefits aren't generous, and the program aims to help families with dependent children cover basic needs. TANF coverage is also limited by time, with lifetime benefits covering 60 months for most people. One condition to enroll in the program is that recipients must assign their child support collection rights to the state.

Every state has a child support enforcement agency (CSEA) that assists parents in collecting child support. Each state's agency also has the duty to collect child support for families receiving public aid. These agencies also assist families that don't receive aid. Non-custodial parents pay child support to the agency, which forwards it to the custodial parents.

Once a parent enrolls for aid, the CSEA starts the process to recover child support. This may include obtaining a child support order. CSEA services include:

  • Establishing¬†paternity
  • Locating parents
  • Enforcing child support orders, and recovering current and past-due support
  • Modifying child support orders

Applicants for public aid must agree to cooperate with agency efforts. Lack of cooperation can mean denial of TANF benefits.

State Efforts and Child Support Enforcement

A child support order is as enforceable as any other court judgment or decree. A parent who is owed child support can use every legal tool available to enforce the order. Options your lawyer may suggest include wage garnishments, wage assignments, contempt of court decrees, and seizure of property.

State agencies can use these enforcement tools when child support rights are assigned to it. The goal is to enforce the child support order and recoup the money expended via public assistance. A non-custodial parent has the same duty to pay child support to the state as he or she has to the custodial parent.

If a state collects more in a month than is to be paid to the custodial parent for current and past due support, the excess funds can be used to repay the state and federal governments for cash benefits the parent received.

Questions for Your Attorney

  • I received TANF aid. When child support is recovered from my ex-spouse, how much will I receive?
  • If child support is recovered and TANF benefits are repaid, do I gain back any TANF eligibility?
  • I used to receive public aid, and if I can collect past-due support from my ex-spouse, will the government get a share of the money?
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