OLR Research Report

September 30, 2010




By: Susan Price, Senior Attorney

This backgrounder provides short definitions of some of the most commonly used child support and child support enforcement terms. Except in a few instances, we have not included definitions of Judicial Branch or generic legal terms.

For the purposes of this report, we are defining child support as: amounts required to be paid under a judgment, decree, order, or voluntary agreement whether temporary, final, or subject to modification for the support and maintenance of a child or children, including (1) monetary support; (2) health insurance; and (3) in some cases, post-majority educational support.

A list of commonly used acronyms appears at the end of this report.

Title IV-A (“four-A”): Title IV-A of the federal Social Security Act (SSA), in which the custodial parent and children are receiving public assistance; applicants for IV-A benefits are automatically referred to the state's IV-D agency (see below) and must cooperate in locating the children's father; establishing paternity or child support obligations, or both; this allows the state to recoup some of its public assistance costs from noncustodial parents (NCPs)

Title IV-D (“four-D”): Title IV-D of the SSA, which requires states to create programs to locate NCPs, establish paternity, establish and enforce child support orders, and collect and distribute payments (in Connecticut, the IV-D agency is the Department of Social Service's (DSS) Bureau of Child Support Enforcement (BCSE))

Title IV-E (“four-E”): Title IV-E of the SSA, which establishes federal-state foster care programs to provide financial support to a person, family, or institution that is raising a foster child

Administration for Children and Families (ACF): the agency within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) that houses the Office of Child Support Enforcement (OCSE)

Administrative Process: a procedure set up in state agencies to determine rights, such as rights to child support, without going through the court system

Arrearage: past due child support

Assignment of Support Rights: the procedure by which a custodial parent (usually the mother), in return for receiving public assistance, agrees to turn over to the state (“assign”) any claim to child support, including arrearages, paid by the noncustodial parent

Basic Support: expenses relating to the child's care, housing, food, clothing, and transportation; does not include payment toward arrears

Central Registry: centralized, automated unit maintained by state IV-D agencies that receive and distribute child support and respond to inquiries about interstate IV-D cases

Child Support Guidelines: a standard method for setting child support obligations using a mathematical formula based on parental income (Connecticut uses the Income Shares model, which takes into account the financial resources of both parents)

Child Support Recovery Act of 1992: makes it a federal crime to willfully fail to pay child support for a child that lives in another state, or to travel out of state to avoid child support obligations – obligor must have not paid for at least a year or the arrearage must exceed $5,000

Civil Contempt: civil penalty imposed on a party who has the ability to obey a court order (such as an order to pay child support) but willfully fails to comply

Connecticut Bureau of Child Support Enforcement (BCSE): unit within DSS responsible for locating NCPs or putative fathers to establish, enforce, and modify child support orders and collect and distribute it

Consumer Credit Protection Act: federal law that limits the amount that can be withheld from earnings to pay child support; the maximum that can be withheld is (1) 50% when no arrearage is owed; (2) 55% if arrearage is owed; and (3) 60% if single, and 65% if remarried, when support payments are 12 or more weeks in arrears

Criminal Non-Support: state criminal charge brought against an NCP who willfully fails to pay child support; in Connecticut it is an unclassified misdemeanor punishable by imprisonment for up to one year

Current Assistance Case: child support enforcement case in which the obligee is currently receiving both public assistance and IV-D services

Custodial Parent: the parent with whom a child lives for more than half a year

Duration of Child Support Obligation: until the child turns 18 or, if at that point he or she is an unmarried, full time high school student, until he or she graduates or turns 19, whichever occurs first (see also “post-secondary educational support,” below)

Electronic Funds Transfer (EFT): procedure for electronically disbursing child support collections; the state deposits the amount due to the custodial parent in the bank and issues an ATM-type card so that the parent can gain access to it

Enforcement: a state's efforts to obtain court-ordered payment of a child or medical support order using collection methods such as wage garnishment; seizure of assets, such as bank accounts and lottery winnings; placing liens on real and personal property; revocation of drivers and other state-issued licenses; and passport denials

Family Support Act of 1988: federal law generally requiring immediate wage withholding in child support cases; also requires every state to implement child support guidelines

Family Support Magistrate: in Connecticut, an administrative law judge authorized to conduct hearings and decide IV-D cases, among other things

Federal Case Registry (FCR): a national database of all parties in IV-D cases filed after October 1, 1998; the FCR compares submissions from state case registries and other sources and reports matches to the inquiring state (each state has a counterpart)

Federal Financial Participation (FFP): the portion of a state's child support expenditures that are paid by a federal government match (in Connecticut and most states, the match is 66%)

Federal Parent Locator Service (FPLS): computerized, national network that obtains address and employer information as well as data on child support obligors in every state; also includes the FCR and National Directory of New Hires

Financial Institution Data Match (FIDM): a process whereby information on accounts held by interstate banks and other financial institutions is matched against a list of child support obligors who owe arrearages; matches are reported to the appropriate IV-D agency (BCSE in Connecticut)

Former Assistance Case: case in which an obligee previously received public assistance and is currently receiving IV-D services

Full Faith and Credit for Child Support Act: requires state IV-D agencies to enforce child support orders from other states

Garnishment: a proceeding in which part of an obligor's wages or other income is withheld to pay child support

Income: for child support purposes, any periodic form of payment to an individual, regardless of source, including wages; salaries; commissions; bonuses; workers compensation and retirement benefits; interest; remuneration for work performed; or any payment made in lieu of remuneration, such as Social Security

Intercept: method of securing child support by taking a portion of non-wage payments made to an NCP, including federal and state tax refunds, lottery winnings, and lawsuit recoveries

Intergovernmental Referral Guide (IRG): an online compilation of questions and answers from state IV-D agencies and the Office of Child Support Enforcement (OCSE) https://extranet.acf.hhs.gov/irgps/stateMap.do

Interstate Case: legal action that involves two or more states; usually one which entered the original support order and another where the child or one of the parties lives

Joint Legal Custody: unless otherwise ordered, and regardless of who has physical custody, both parents have legal custody of their children and are entitled to make major life decisions for them; in Connecticut, there is a legal presumption that joint custody is in a child's best interest

Medical Support: medical coverage mandated by court order; includes (1) private health insurance; (2) publicly funded health coverage; (3) cash medical assistance, including payment of health insurance premiums; or out-of-pocket payment of medical bills, including dental and eye care

Modification of Child Support Order: rule of thumb — 15% above or below income level used to calculate the current child support order

(changed circumstances); can be raised by either party

Multistate Financial Institution Data Match (FIDM): process by which delinquent child support obligors are matched with accounts held in financial institutions doing business in more than one state

National Directory of New Hires (NDNH): a national database containing new hire and quarterly wage information submitted by each state-level directory; part of the federal Parent Locator Service

National Medical Support Notice (NMSN): form sent to employers from states' IV-D agencies directing them and their health care plan administrators to enroll an NCP's child in employer-sponsored health insurance if required as part of a child support order

Never-Assistance Case: case in which IV-D services are provided to families that have never received public assistance, but in which the custodial parent has applied for IV-D services to help obtain child support

New Hire Reporting: program under which employers must submit to the state directory of new hires personally identifying information (at a minimum, name, address, and social security number) about newly-hired employees

Non-IV-D Orders: child support order handled by a private attorney or the parties representing themselves; is usually entered into the IV-D child support system for payment purposes

Obligee: the person, state agency, or other entity to whom child support is owed

Obligor: the person who is obligated to pay child support

Office of Child Support Enforcement (OCSE): the federal agency (part of ACF) responsible for developing (1) child support policies and overseeing their implementation and (2) program evaluation and audit criteria for state child support enforcement programs; also administers the FPLS, which, in turn, includes the National Directory of New Hires and the Federal Case Registry

Offset: the process of reducing funds that are paid by the federal government to an obligor and applying them against the balance of past due child support owed; also, the amount that is intercepted from an obligor's state or federal income tax refund

Passport Denial Program: program under which an obligor who is more than $5,000 in arrears in unable to get a new or renewed passport

Pass-Through: in cash assistance cases, a provision allowing the state to give the family a portion of the child support it collects from the NCP (“pass through”); this amount does not count (is disregarded) in determining eligibility for public assistance (in Connecticut, the pass-through amount is the first $50 received from the NCP each month)

Paternity: the legal establishment of fatherhood for a child either by voluntary acknowledgment, court determination, or administrative process

Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996 (PRWORA): federal welfare reform legislation that imposes a number of requirements on employers, public licensing agencies, financial institutions, and IV-D agencies to assist in locating NCPs and the establishment, enforcement, and collection of child support; created the new hire reporting program and the state–federal case registries

Post-Majority Educational Support: support (usually tuition, room, board, and textbooks) for children up to age 23 who a judge finds would have attended an institution of higher education had the family remained intact

Putative Father: The person alleged to be the father of a child but has not yet been medically or legally declared to be the legal father

Quasi-Judicial Support Assistance: a framework or procedure under the auspices of a state's judicial branch in which court officers other than judges process, establish, enforce, and modify orders, usually subject to judicial review; (in Connecticut child support cases, these officers are called family support magistrates)

Retroactive Child Support: child support that is ordered to be paid beginning with a date in the past

Review and Adjustment: periodic process in which current information is obtained from both parties to a IV-D child support case and evaluated to decide if a support order needs to be adjusted (modified)

Soldiers' and Sailors' Civil Relief Act of 1940: federal law requiring that court proceedings, including child support actions be stayed when one of the parties is in active military service

Support Enforcement Services: a division of Connecticut's Judicial Branch responsible for bringing legal actions to enforce child support orders

Unclaimed Funds: support payment that cannot be disbursed because the (1) identity of the payor or (2) whereabouts of the payee is unknown

Uniform Interstate Family Support Act (UIFSA): uniform state laws for establishing and enforcing child support obligations in interstate cases (e.g., the NCP lives in one state and the child and other parent live in another)

Wage Assignment: an obligor's voluntary agreement to transfer (or assign) portions of future wage payments to pay child support

Wage or Income Withholding: a procedure by which scheduled deductions are taken from wages or income to pay child support; typically BCSE notifies the obligor's employer to withhold a specified amount from the employee's paycheck and transmit to it to the state's IV-D agency


IV-A —Title 4-A of the Social Security Act

IV-D Title 4-D of the Social Security Act

IV-E Title 4-E of the Social Security Act

ACF Administration for Children and Families

BCSE — Connecticut's Bureau of Child Support Enforcement

DSS — Connecticut's Department of Social Services

EFT Electronic Funds Transfer

FCR Federal Case Registry

FFP Federal Financial Participation

FIDM Federal Interstate Data Match

FPLS Federal Parent Locator Service

HHS — U.S. Department of Health and Human Services

IRG Intergovernmental Referral Guide

NCP — Noncustodial Parent

NMSN — National Medical Support Notice

OCSE — Federal Office of Child Support Enforcement

PRWORA — Federal Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996

UIFSA Uniform Interstate Family Support Act