Step 1: Establish Paternity
If paternity is contested by the father, you need a court order to establish it. There are two common ways to do this. First, you can get your own blood test and hire a private lawyer who will handle the paperwork for you. Depending on where you live this option could cost you up to $2,000 or more. The second option is to go through your state’s Division of Family Services (DFS). This option is free, but can take a long time since the caseworkers are often overloaded with clients. With either option the time to take action is now and you are losing money each day you wait. Please don’t listen to promises of payment from someone who just doesn’t pay.
To apply through the DFS, go your local office to fill out the paperwork. They will contact you to tell you when you and your child need to come in for the paternity test. States are divided in how they do this. Some states give a blood test and some do a DNA swab of your mouth. Once your DNA or blood tests are complete, the Division of Family Services contacts the father to arrange for him to be tested also. If he refuses to be tested, he is presumed to be the father in most states. If he is tested, the tests will obviously show whether he is the father or not. It is no good trying to trick the system by naming someone who you just want to be the father. The tests are VERY reliable.
Once you have the blood or DNA results showing who the father is, these results are taken to court for an official court order. If the Division of Family Services handles the paternity tests for you, a state appointed lawyer will do the legal work and will let you know where and when to come to court.
Step 2: Get A Court Order
At the same time as you are establishing paternity, you will provide Family Services or your private lawyer, with your financial information. This includes income, expenses, assets and liabilities. As soon as the paternity test results come in, the father will be asked for the same information. If he doesn’t provide the information, the state will use a formula to say what his income is. You will tell them about his last known job and his education and they will make a determination of how much they think he makes. If it is too low you can give them more information so they can choose the correct amount. Once the financial information is complete, the state can tell you how much child support you are entitled to according to their formula. If the parties agree or if the father does not contest, you will be awarded that amount. The father can contest at court and show that the state’s calculations are wrong. Either way a judge will make a final decision and that is the amount that is due monthly. You may also be awarded back support to when the case was first filed in court, when you first sought paternity, or you may even get some earlier expenses if you can prove them. Judges are not anxious to give you money from before when you filed the case, assuming that you probably were getting money from the father or you would have gotten a court order.
Step 3: Enforce The Court Order
If you are reading this, the father is probably not paying you monthly like he should and you want to know how to get him to comply. If you know where he is working, you can turn that in to your state child support enforcement agency and they will garnish his wages for you. They may also run his Social Security number through their system every now and then to see if they can find employment if you don’t know where he works. Around tax time, they may be able to apply for a tax intercept if he is behind in support. Lastly, your state may allow them to pull his driver’s or professional license if he is a certain amount delinquent (often $3,000 or more). Other than this, you will not likely get much help from your state enforcement agency. They rarely go after bank accounts, retirement accounts, house, cars or other assets like private agencies do.
Your next enforcement option is with a private lawyer. They often charge an hourly rate and their results are not guaranteed. Shop around for the best deal with a lawyer who regularly practices this type of law.
The last (and normally the best) option for people who can’t get the state to do anything for them and who don’t want to (or can’t) pay a private attorney, is to hire a private child support collection agency. These collectors commonly work on a percent of what they collect so that if you don’t get anything, they don’t get any payment. This gives them incentive to work hard for you. There are never any guarantees, but they often sniff out some of the most wanted deadbeat parents around. And really you have nothing to lose if you aren’t getting paid anyway. It is always better to have part of something, than all of nothing. Many of the best agencies collect over 70% of the cases. That’s pretty good when you consider these are cases where people have normally not gotten any money for years and have even given up trying.