Regardless of whether you are feuding parents or friendly divorcees, one thing to remember is that child support is a necessity, not a luxury, which the non-custodial parent can't choose to ignore. All children need to be fed, clothed and educated, as well as have their medical needs attended to, even if their parents are not living in the same home or communicating with each other.

The child support program aims to locate parents, their employers and their assets. Its goal is to establish paternity (if necessary) as well as to establish and enforce child support orders. The local child support office in your state will be able to assist you throughout the child support process. Here are 10 of the most important things to know and understand about child support.

1. You Will Need to Provide Documentation

You will need to provide your local child support office with all of the documents and as much information as they request. These will include essential things, such as the following:

  • The name, address and Social Security number of the non-custodial parent
  • The details of the non-custodial parent's current or most recent employer(s)
  • Any information about the non-custodial parent's income and assets (i.e., pay slips, tax returns, bank accounts, investments, property holdings, etc.)
  • A photograph and/or physical description of the non-custodial parent
  • The birth certificates of the child(ren)
  • Details of the custodial parent's income and assets
  • Information about each child’s expenses, such as medical needs

2. Expect to Pay

An application fee may be required. If you are receiving assistance under Medicaid, foster care or other cash assistance programs, you do not have to pay for child support services. The fee for all other applicants is approximately $25. Your state may agree to absorb all (or part) of the fee, or collect payment for the fee from the non-custodial parent.

3. You Will Need to Establish Paternity

If you were not married when your child was born, you will need to establish paternity. Both the mother and the father are eligible to request a blood test if paternity is not voluntarily acknowledged. The caseworker assigned to you can assist you with this process.

4. You Will Need to Establish a Fair Amount

You will need to establish the obligation to pay. The guidelines for your state will set out the fair amount of child support that a non-custodial parent is required to pay. Your local child support office will be able to tell you what the set amounts are in your state. You can also request medical support for the child.

5. You Will Need to Provide Details about the Non-Custodial Parent

Any child support order granted to the custodial parent will need to be enforced. The child support office can help you to collect the money, regardless of where the non-custodial parent lives. You may need to provide your caseworker with details of where the non-custodial parent lives and/or works, as well as other information that they may require to locate that person.

When a parent's whereabouts are unknown, the child support office may be able to track them with the aid of state agencies, such as the Department of Motor Vehicles or the Federal Parent Locator Service. The Child Support Handbook has additional useful information on interstate cases. Parents who live abroad are not exempt from paying or receiving child support. The Office of Child Support Enforcement is active in international child support cases, and assists in cases where families live in different countries. The U.S. government has arrangements with numerous foreign reciprocating countries to provide child support services.

6. You Do Not Need to Meet with an Ex-Partner

You do not need to meet with your ex-partner in order to obtain child support payment arrangements. Most often, the child support will be deducted directly from the non-custodial parent's salary. Most child support orders require the employer to send the withheld money to their state's child support office.

7. There Are Other Options for Support

If the non-custodial parent cannot be located even after exhausting the above resources, you can still get cash assistance from the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program. Your state, local or tribal child support agency will tell you what information they will need to provide you with assistance.

8. The Government Has Several Ways to Collect Unpaid Child Support

Parents who fail to pay child support may find that their federal and state income tax refunds are withheld and go toward paying unpaid child support. Many states with state income tax have laws that require the offset of state income tax refunds to collect overdue child support. The money first goes toward paying the amount due for the most recent month before it is then used for past-due support; after those two amounts have been collected, any remaining funds go to the state in order to repay any cash assistance provided to the custodial parent. The state must notify the non-custodial parent in advance of any such offset. The notice will set out the amount owed in arrears, the amount to be offset, and how to contest the offset.

Some states have the legal power to use other methods of obtaining the overdue amounts, including liens on real and personal property and orders to deliver property. In other cases, they may even seize and sell a property in order to pay off the child support debt. More and more states routinely report child support debts to credit bureaus, which will have an adverse effect on the non-custodial parent's credit.

9. Either Parent Can Request a Review of the Support Order

If your income has changed, your support order can be reviewed. Either parent can request a review of the order to ensure that it is still adequate. Child support offices will review a child support order at least every three years, although they will also conduct a review if there is a significant change of circumstances, provided that one of the parents requests the review. States can adjust a child support order—either increasing or decreasing the amount—depending on child support guidelines, a cost-of-living adjustment, or automated methods established by the relevant state.

10. Child Support Programs Can Help Parents Find a Job and Pay Support

If you are the non-custodial parent and are trying to find a job, you are not alone. State child support programs are actively involved in helping non-custodial parents find and keep a job so that they can support both themselves and their children. Your caseworker can refer you to employment programs and agencies, including TANF, workforce programs and community colleges.