Division of Child Support (DCS)
The Division of Child Support (DCS) is the state agency that collects child support. DCS collects when a child gets welfare payments or is in foster care. DCS can set the support amount through its own administrative system unless (or until) a court sets support. Once there is a child support order, DCS can collect by garnishing wages, unemployment benefits, bank accounts, etc.
DCS has a locator service to help find parents who owe support. In case you have not established the child’s paternity yet, the organization will refer the case to the prosecuting attorney’s office for a court order of paternity and support. The service is usually free or just a small fee attached at most.
Ways DCS Collects Child Support
Usually, by wage withholding (garnishing). This means taking the support directly from the other parent’s paycheck. DCS can also take support payments from other sources of income. If the other parent is not working or has no other regular income, DCS can take funds from bank accounts and, sometimes, other types of property, such as boats and cars. A parent who can pay but does not, DCS can have their driver’s or professional license suspended. If a parent still refuses to pay, a judge can hold that parent in contempt and send them to jail.
The state’s Support Registry keeps track of payments. Its records are the best way to know if someone has paid or owes support. If the other parent ever pays you directly, tell DCS, so their payment records are accurate.
You May Have a Right To Back Support
If you have never gotten public assistance, you are entitled to everything DCS collects, current and back support. DCS often also collects unpaid back support, called “arrears.” If you have gotten public assistance in the past but are not getting it now, the state can keep the arrears built up while you got assistance. Arrears that have built up since you last got public assistance to belong to you. As such, DCS should pay you before it keeps any arrears that belong to the state. If you disagree with DCS’ calculations or how they have distributed support, ask them for a Notice of Objection form to fill out and return it to the nearest DCS office. This is how you ask for a hearing. It would be best if you got notice of the hearing date/time/place within a few weeks. Bring to the hearing any papers showing how DCS’ mistake.
Getting More Support
You can potentially get more support by petitioning to modify the support order to a higher amount if:
- The paying parent’s finances have gotten better since the entry of the child support order
- The support order is old.
- The children’s needs have changed.
On the flip side, the paying parent can ask to pay less child support if their financial situation worsens since the original support order. They will petition the court to accomplish this.
If You Can’t Afford a Lawyer
Our law office offers exceptional rates. That said, if you can’t afford a child support lawyer, you can try to file the papers yourself or ask a courthouse facilitator for help. Some volunteer lawyer programs have classes teaching people how to do child support modifications in court. You can also ask DCS to file a modification action on your behalf. DCS must review support orders periodically and change them up or down depending on the situation.
If You Are Concerned About Your Safety
Normally, in return for welfare payments, you must cooperate with DCS’s efforts to get child support from the other parent. If this could place you or your child in danger, DCS may excuse you from cooperating, which is called “good cause.”
If you are concerned for your or your children’s safety, tell your welfare worker you believe you have good cause not to cooperate with support enforcement efforts. Show them any evidence of the reasons you are afraid, such as medical records, protection orders, criminal records, police reports, etc. If you do not have such records, your sworn statement might be a good cause.
Even if you agree to cooperate with DCS, you can have them keep your location from the other parent if you have well-founded safety concerns. If the other parent asks DCS for your child’s address, DCS should tell you and give you the chance to ask for a hearing to keep them from giving it out. You can appear at the hearing by phone from an undisclosed location.
Chad Foster is a trusted family law and divorce lawyer serving Snohomish and King counties with an office in Bothell. Contact us today to discuss your legal issue.