Establishing Support

Step 1: Open a Child Support Case

The parent or the legal guardian of a child not receiving public assistance may apply for child support services. The application for services is available here, or at your local child support agency. If you are unable to stop by the office or you do not have internet access you may contact us at (866) 901-3212 to receive the necessary forms by mail.

The Department of Child Support Services will also open a child support case automatically for any individual receiving public assistance that has been referred to the department by the Department of Social Services. Child support program services include obtaining child support and medical support orders, establishing parentage, and collecting support payments. Child support program services do not address divorce, custody, or visitation issues.

Step 2: Locate a Parent

In order to obtain a court order for child support, the Department of Child Support Services must know where the parents live or work. The Department of Child Support Services has access to resources unavailable to the general public to aid in locating parents. We will make every effort to locate a missing parent, regardless of whether or not he or she lives in the state of California.

Step 3: Establish Parentage

As previously discussed, establishing parentage is the process of determining the legal parents of a child, and is necessary before custody; visitation or child support can be ordered by the court. If parentage has not been established by court order or by marriage, the Department of Child Support Services can assist with this process. Parentage may be established by genetic testing, court order, or by completing a Voluntary Declaration of Parentage form. In cases where the child is receiving public assistance the establishment of parentage for the child is mandatory.

Step 4: Establish a Court Order

If a court order for child support does not already exist and the parent is located, an order will be sought by the Department of Child Support Services. The court order will be based on both parents' ability to pay support, the amount of time the child spends with each parent, and the financial needs of the child. In all cases the Department of Child Support Services will seek a support order requiring the noncustodial parent (obligor) to provide health insurance for the child(ren) he or she is ordered to support. In cases where health insurance is unavailable or not available at a reasonable cost, the court will make the determination regarding the medical insurance requirement. Health insurance includes vision care and dental care as defined in Family Code Section 3750:

“Health insurance coverage" as used in this article includes all of the following:

(a) Vision care and dental care coverage whether the vision care or dental care coverage is part of existing health insurance coverage or is issued as a separate policy or plan.

(b) Provision for the delivery of health care services by a fee for service, health maintenance organization, preferred provider organization, or any other type of health care delivery system under which medical services could be provided to a dependent child of an absent parent.

Step 5: Collection and Distribution of Child Support

Unless the court approves an alternate payment method, child support payments must be withheld from a parent's wages. An Income Withholding Order is sent to the noncustodial parent's employer, requiring the employer to deduct a certain amount of child support from the parent's wages and send it to State Distribution Unit (SDU) in accordance with state and federal requirements.

The State Disbursement Unit (SDU) then distributes the money within two business days.

Step 6: Collection and Distribution of Spousal Support

The Department of Child Support Services does not seek support orders that include spousal support. In cases where a support order was obtained privately that includes spousal support in addition to child support, the Department of Child Support Services will enforce and distribute spousal support for the same period of time that current or arrears child support is enforced and distributed while the dependent child receiving child support resides with the custodial parent receiving spousal support. In cases where the child support obligation has been satisfied and the youngest child is emancipated or out of the custodial parent’s home and spousal support is the sole remaining obligation, the Department of Child Support Services will cease enforcement and close the case.

Step 7: Enforcement

Not all parents who are required to pay child support do so willingly and without incident. Some do not recognize this responsibility to their children, their former partner, and the community at large. The Department of Child Support Services enforces court orders we have established, as well as those previously established by other means. Refusing to pay child support is against the law, and the Department of Child Support Services has a variety of enforcement tools available to ensure that parents comply with their court order. To learn more about methods of enforcement, please visit the California Child Support Services website,

Public Assistance Cases

CalWORKS, Foster Care and Medi-Cal are defined as public assistance. In most cases the Healthy Families Insurance Program is considered public assistance as well. As a condition of receiving public assistance the recipient of services (custodial parent) assigns all rights to current and past due child support, spousal support and medical support to the county. If a child receives public assistance, the Department of Social Services refers the case to the county Department of Child Support Services to open a case and establish parentage for a child when appropriate, obtain a medical support order when appropriate, establish a child support order when appropriate and enforce the order to offset the public assistance paid out for that child.

Parents who apply for public assistance must work with the child support caseworker to be eligible for a grant, unless there is good cause for not cooperating. For more information regarding good cause and public assistance please review the State of California Child Support Handbook or discuss the issue with your case manager.