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How Does Child Support Enforcement Work in NC?

The Child Support Enforcement (CSE) Program is managed by the NC Division of Social Services. CSE oversees almost all child support cases but they do more than enforce child support orders. If there is no child support order, they will initiate a lawsuit for it.  A case worker is assigned to each case to act as the point of contact between the parents. When parents reach an agreement in their child support case, CSE will facilitate the entry of a court order. When parents dispute the amount of child support, a judge will decide what must be paid. Parties are always free to hire private attorneys to represent them in child support cases if they choose to do so. But for a fee of $25.00 per year, a CSE attorney represents the party who is entitled to child support, kind of like a district attorney represents the state/victim in criminal case.

Who Can Use CSE Services?

Any parent is eligible for services, regardless of whether he or she has government assistance. Either parent can request services, not just the party who receives child support. Married parents who have separated but have not yet divorced may use CSE services. A child’s guardian or caretaker qualifies for services, as does a person who has custody of a child pursuant to a court order. For example, if a grandparent has legal custody of a grandchild, CSE will provide services. For the sake of clarity, I will refer to anyone who qualifies for CSE services as parents.

What About Paternity Testing?

When parents are married at the time of the child’s birth, the law automatically assumes the husband is the father.  However, when a child is born to unmarried parents and the father disputes paternity, CSE files a motion for the court to determine paternity by genetic testing. Paternity must be established before child support is properly ordered. An unmarried father may initiate services, including a request for paternity testing.  Based on the test results, or if the defendant in the child support case fails to appear in court as required, CSE will then establish paternity and child support by court order.  

How Do they Enforce Child Support Orders?

CSE keeps records of what is paid by a parent and what is provided to the other parent, usually by income withholding so the support will be automatically paid through the parent’s employer. Another effective method of enforcing child support orders is a motion to hold a parent in contempt of court. If the court rules that the parent is in contempt of court for failure to pay support, the judge has legal authority to incarcerate him or her until the outstanding amount of support is paid. If a parent receives alimony, CSE will enforce it as well.

Special Authority

Because CSE is part of a government agency, they have a few exclusive benefits. For instance, employers are legally required to file documents with the government for each new employee they hire. Based in part on that information, which includes the parent’s social security number, CSE offers a “parental locator service.” They can likely find the parent to serve him or her with a summons or motion, and find records of the parent’s income and assets. CSE can intercept a parent’s tax refund to be applied to any outstanding amount of child support. CSE offices in each state work together to transition from one state to another in the event one or both parents leave the state.  

Amy A. Edwards is a family law attorney in Greenville, NC, certified by the NC State Bar Board of Legal Specialization as a Family Law Specialist, and is licensed only in NC. Laws change. This article is current as of June/July 2017. www.AmyEdwardsFamilyLaw.com © 2017.

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