The Child Support Process


By law, all children are entitled to financial support from their parents, to the best of the parents' abilities.  In cases where both parents do not share a household with the children, Child Support Services acts as an intermediary to establish a fair financial contribution from each parent, and to make sure that they pay it.

In many cases, establishing parentage is the first step that Child Support Services must take. Once that has been determined, finances and parenting time with the children are reviewed and a proposed monthly transfer of funds between the parents (to balance the contributions of each) is established.  The parents can agree on the amount, enter into a stipulation, and avoid appearing in court, or they can attend court, where the Commissioner will decide what's fair, and establish a court ordered amount.  The order will also address questions of how the children will receive health insurance, and how child care and out-of-pocket medical costs will be handled.

Once the monthly Child Support amount is ordered, a wage assignment will be sent to the employer of the parent paying support, with instructions for withholding funds from the employee's paycheck and sending them to the State Disbursement Unit for distribution to the other parent.  Typically, the person paying support is called the Non-Custodial Parent (NCP) and the person receiving support is called the Custodial Party (CP), but these are old terms and don't reflect the shared custody situations which are common today.

If the person paying support is self-employed or works for a variety of employers, it is typically best to have them pay the State Disbursement Unit directly, by check, credit card, or electronic funds transfer.  Child Support Services will also accept cash at our offices in Santa Barbara and Santa Maria, or in court.  If the parent does not cooperate by paying the support ordered, a number of unpleasant consequences are triggered by the automated statewide system.  These include driver's license suspension, professional license suspension, tax refund intercepts, bank levies, passport denial and negative credit reporting.

Child Support Services are available to anyone who has a child or legal custody of a child, regardless of income.  The services are entirely free except for a $25 fee charged the year after any year where at least $500 was collected on behalf of the family.  If the family was ever on public assistance, the fee is waived.

Step 1: Open a Child Support Case

Either parent or the legal guardian of a child may open a child support case. Child Support Services will also open a case if referral is made by the Department of Social Services, on behalf of an individual applying for public assistance.

Step 2: Locate a Parent

In order to obtain a court order for child support, the Child Support Services must be able to find both parents. With access to resources unavailable to the general public, we make every effort to locate a missing parent, even if they are outside of the county or state.

Step 3: Establish Parentage

If parentage has not been established by voluntary declaration, court order or by marriage, Child Support Services can assist with this process. Parentage can be established by court order and may include free DNA testing, or the voluntary completion of a Declaration of Paternity form.

Step 4: Establish a Court Order

Once both parents are identified and located, Child Support Services will establish a court order for child support, unless a relevant order already exists. 

Step 5: Collection/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 Witholding Order(IWO) is sent to the parent's employer, requiring the employer to deduct a certain amount of child support from the parent's wages and send it to the State Disbursement Unit (SDU) in accordance with state and federal requirements. The State Disbursement Unit (SDU) then sends the money to the family within two business days. Self-employed parents required to pay child support must make other payment arrangements. For more information, refer to the State of Califonia's Publications page.

Step 6: Enforcement

Unfortunately, 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. 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 Child Support Services has a variety of enforcement tools available to ensure that parents comply with their court order.  For more information, refer to the State of California's Publications page

A Note About CalWORKS or Medi-Cal Cases

If a child receives CalWORKS or is in Foster Care the Department of Social Services refers the case to Child Support Services. Unless there is good cause for not cooperating, parents who apply for public assistance must cooperate with Child Support Services.