In North Carolina, CSE services are available to anyone who wants or needs help in collecting child support through a network of state and locally run offices. CSE offers assistance in the following areas:
- Location of noncustodial parents – CSE searches to find where the noncustodial parent lives and/or works.
- Paternity establishment for children born outside of marriage – CSE establishes the legal father of the child.
- Establishment of support obligations – CSE establishes a court order for the noncustodial parent to provide support for his/her child(ren).
- Collection and distribution of support – CSE keeps records of court ordered child support payments processed by the North Carolina Child Support Centralized Collections operation and tracks the distribution and disbursement of those payments.
- Enforcement of support obligations – CSE uses as many enforcement remedies as necessary to ensure the noncustodial parent’s compliance with the court ordered support.
Individuals who receive services through Public Assistance (IV-A) or Foster Care (IV-E) programs are eligible and automatically referred for CSE services free of charge. Non-Public Assistance clients can inquire about CSE services by telephone and receive an Application and Supplemental Data Sheet to complete, or they can visit any local CSE office. Clients are responsible for paying up to a twenty-five dollar ($25) non-refundable application fee.
The CSE program is not authorized to help with some issues that might seem similar to child support, such as custody, visitation, or property settlements. Private attorneys and county Clerks of Superior Court also offer certain support services. To learn more about what assistance is available, you may contact these offices individually.
Location of Noncustodial Parents (NCPs)
NCPs must be located before any actions to establish paternity and support or to enforce a child support order can take place. Name, date of birth, social security number, address, employer, and vehicle ownership information can assist the CSE program in locating an NCP. Clients are a primary source of information that CSE uses to locate NCPs.
With these types of information, the CSE program can access both state and national computer databases to assist in location efforts. In addition, CSE offices in other states can assist in locating parents and pursuing a support order.
Paternity Establishment for Children Born Outside of Marriage
Establishing a legal father for a child ensures certain rights for the child, such as a greater sense of identity and access to paternal medical information, social security benefits, death and insurance benefits, and military benefits.
A child support order cannot be established for a child who is born to unmarried parents, unless the alleged father acknowledges paternity or is proven to be the father. Paternity can be established by voluntary acknowledgment of paternity or by court order.
The most convenient time for parents to establish paternity for their child is in the hospital when the child is born. The father must be present and provide identification to have his name placed on the Affidavit of Parentage. When this document is filed with Vital Records, both parents’ names are recorded on the birth certificate.
Genetic (DNA) testing is recommended if there are doubts regarding the paternity of the child. Blood or tissue samples may be used for testing. The most common method uses tissue swabbed from the inside of the cheek. This test is highly accurate in determining the probability that a man is the father of a child. Test results may provide peace of mind to parents who establish paternity voluntarily or may be presented as evidence in legal proceedings to establish paternity.
If paternity is not established voluntarily, legal action may be filed with the courts. A formal complaint is served upon the alleged father, initiating court action. A court hearing is held, and the court may enter an order establishing paternity.
Establishment of Support Obligations
A legal order must be established that specifies the amount of support to be paid for the benefit of a child. The successful establishment of a support order depends upon several critical areas. The critical areas are:
- Locating the noncustodial parent (NCP)
- Identifying what he or she can pay
- Determining the financial needs of the child
States are required to develop guidelines for determining child support amounts. In North Carolina, CSE Guidelines are determined by the North Carolina Conference of Chief District Court Judges. These guidelines are based on the needs of the child(ren) and on the ability of parents to pay. States must use the guidelines, unless they can be shown to be unfair to the child(ren).
The CSE Guidelines are used to compute a child support obligation based on the combined gross income of the custodial parent/client and NCP. Either the NCP can agree voluntarily to the amount of support or the obligation can be established through court action.
An obligation to provide medical support in the form of health insurance through the NCP’s employer can be obtained either voluntarily or through court action
Collection and Distribution of Support
The collection and distribution of child support payments are the primary objectives of child support services. A court order for child support dictates the amount of support to be paid and how often it should be paid.
All child support payments handled by N.C. CSE are sent to the Centralized Collections Operation. Payments are received by various methods, such as:
- Direct payments
- Income withholding
- Interception of tax refunds
Child support payments are distributed and disbursed based on federal regulations and state statutes. Then the NC Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) mails the checks to the appropriate payees.
Enforcement of Support Obligations
Establishing a child support order is no guarantee that the noncustodial parent (NCP) will pay the support as ordered. NCPs could make partial payments, skip payments, or never make a payment. N.C. CSE identifies these cases and uses several enforcement tools to get payment as ordered.
Income withholding by employers is the single most effective method of child support collection. Each pay period, the employer deducts a specified amount from the NCP’s income for the child support payment. The deducted amount is sent to the NC Child Support Centralized Collections within seven (7) days of the deduction.
Income withholding can also be initiated with entities other than employers when the NCP has other sources of income, such as unemployment insurance benefits (UIB), Worker’s Compensation, Social Security benefits, and veteran’s disability benefits.
Employers are required to withhold income for child support orders that are enforced by other states, in accordance with the laws of the state where the NCP is employed.
Other enforcement remedies include:
- Monthly billing to NCPs who are not under income withholding;
- Filing court action against NCPs who have not paid support as ordered;
- Credit bureau reporting of all child support obligations handled by CSE;
- Interception of state and federal tax refunds; or
- Liens on real or personal property that the NCP owns.