The Office of Child Support

If a parent does not want to pay support and lives in another state, it is often difficult for the parent in need of support to travel to another state to litigate the case where the defendant lives.  Therefore, the Uniform Child Support Jurisdiction Act [the “UCCJA”] allows a person seeking child support to file a complaint in one state and have the Office of Child Support Enforcement [the “OCSE”] forward the verified (or sworn) complaint for prosecution in the state where the defendant lives.  The person seeking support is not required to appear and the verified complaint is used in court instead of the petitioner’s testimony.

For example, a mother in California may file a verified complaint for child support with the Los Angeles County OCSE which it will forward to Virginia.  In Virginia, the local OCSE will file the verified complaint in court against the father who lives in the state and the Virginia OCSE will pursue the case through the local court where the father lives.  The mother is not required to appear in court in Virginia but her sworn affidavit (although hearsay) is used in court instead of her live testimony.  Only the OCSE can submit a verified complaint in place of testimony.  (If you hire a private attorney, you will most likely be required to appear in court to testify if you are seeking a child support order.)

The biggest advantage of seeking child support through the OCSE is that it is free.  The OCSE is a government entity (usually part of the county prosecutor’s office) that does not charge any legal fees to its clients usually regardless of the client’s income or ability to pay.  A downside of seeking child support through the OCSE is that it often takes much longer for the case to get a hearing (sometimes a year) then using a private attorney.  Also, the OCSE will undertake only limited discovery efforts to determine the defendant’s income or to locate the defendant to serve the Complaint for Child Support.[1]  Finally, the OCSE will not sue for alimony, child custody, or divorce.  Its mission is limited to pursuing child support.  

If the defendant works for himself or does not receive a regular paycheck, the OCSE will rarely (if ever) subpoena the defendant’s bank statements to determine his or her actual income.  As a result, you may end up with a child support award that isn’t based on the defendant’s entire income.  This does not mean that all private attorneys will be able to discover the defendant’s entire income either, but a private attorney is usually better able to discover the defendant’s actual income instead of his reported income (particularly when the defendant is self-employed).

 

[1]   In every case, the person being sued (the defendant) must receive (usually by hand-delivery) a copy of the Complaint and a Summons ordering a response (called an Answer) by a certain date.  This is called “service of process.”  Sometimes, a defendant will try to avoid being served by hiding to delay or avoid the lawsuit.