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Division of Child Support
IF YOU ARE, THIS INFORMATION ABOUT CHILD SUPPORT IS FOR YOU!
If you get Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) or medical assistance, or you plan to apply for these programs, read this section!
Do I have to help DCS with my child support case?
Can DSHS excuse me from helping with my child support case when I get assistance?
What happens if I do not claim good cause?
What happens if I do not claim good cause and I try to avoid giving information to DSHS?
What is good cause for not cooperating with DCS?
Who can I talk to about my safety concerns and claiming good cause?
Are there magic words I need to use to claim good cause?
What happens if DSHS approves my good cause claim?
What if DSHS approves Good Cause Level B, but I need Good Cause Level A?
What happens if DSHS denies my good cause claim?
How long does good cause last?
After DSHS approves my good cause claim, can I later change my mind and ask DCS to collect support?
What if I never got public assistance?
How can DCS help me make collecting child support as safe as possible?
Is the information I give DCS confidential?
Can the other party to the support order get my address?
Does DCS represent me in child support actions?
What are the pros and cons of establishing paternity?
How can a person establish paternity?
How can DCS help me if I already filed a child support action in court?
How much does it cost me to use DCS services?
What happens if the person I am afraid of has custody of my children?
What resources are available to me?
Where can I read the state regulations and laws about the child support program?
When most people hear the words "domestic violence," they think of physical violence, but many abusers never physically attack their domestic violence victims. Abusers find many ways to control victims - by using words, cheating, lying, or threatening.
Many abusers use money and resources as a means of control. If a victim does not have easy access to money, a car or housing, it makes life hard. Abusers can make it nearly impossible if a victim decides to leave or tries to stay away.
Abusers can use child support as another way to maintain or regain control over victims.
- If you have an abuser who said you will never see a dime of child support if you leave ...
- If your abuser said you will lose custody of your children if you ask for child support ...
- If your abuser had no interest in visiting the children until forced to pay child support and now every visit with the children gives your abuser the chance to further harass or assault you…
... then you are among thousands of victims and survivors statewide experiencing these forms of domestic violence.
If you are a victim of domestic violence, help is available to sort out the advantages and disadvantages of using the child support system and your options within that system.
The remainder of this information answers basic questions about child support and leads you to other resources for more information.
If you get Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) or medical assistance, or you plan to apply for these programs, read this section!
Many people who apply for TANF or medical assistance do not understand that they will automatically get child support services. This is very important to know, especially if you are a domestic violence victim.
The DSHS Division of Child Support (DCS) will open a child support case if you qualify for TANF or medical assistance and will make you help with your child support case. If you are a victim of domestic violence, and child support makes you nervous because it will put you in contact with your abuser, it is very important to read the following information.
Child support services can be a really good thing. The state of Washington can use its many tools to help your children get the money and resources they need now - and will need well into the future. You need to do very little. DCS will take over (at no cost or very low cost to you) to collect the child support owed to your children.
Child support can also be scary if you do not know how it works. We hope the answers to all the questions here will help you understand and feel more confident about using child support services.
Under federal law, everyone who gets TANF or medical assistance automatically gets child support services and must help the Division of Child Support (DCS) provide those services. DSHS calls this "cooperation."
Your cooperation is needed to:
- Establish paternity - help identify the father of your child or children.
- Establish child support orders - give DCS any information you have about where the other parent lives and works, and about their income and assets.
- Modify child support orders - complete paperwork and provide your income information so DCS can review your current order for needed changes.
- Enforce child support orders - give DCS any information you have about the other parent, including information about employment, vehicles, assets, and bank accounts.
If you believe that helping child support services may hurt you or your children, you can claim that you have a good reason, also known as "good cause" not to cooperate. You use this "good cause" process to explain why you fear cooperating with DCS may be dangerous.
If you do not take active steps to have DSHS excuse you from helping DCS collect child support, DCS will open a child support case immediately and will pursue payments and health coverage from the other parent.
Because DCS has lots of technology and dedicated support enforcement officers, they may be able to find the other parent even if you give them very little or no information at all about that person. If this contact could cause you harm, you must take active steps to protect yourself.
If you believe that establishing paternity or collecting child support would put you or your child in danger, you may think that you can just avoid giving information when DSHS employees ask you about the other parent. However, this may not be the best strategy, and could get you into trouble.
If you do not cooperate with DCS, DSHS may reduce your TANF grant. If you lie or provide false information on your assistance application, you may open yourself to a charge of perjury (lying under oath).
The good cause process is there to protect you. If you do not understand how the process works, ask your worker at the community services office (CSO). If that person does not know the answer to your questions, ask someone else.
You must have a child support case and help DCS when you get TANF or medical assistance. But, if you are victim of domestic violence and you believe receiving child support services will put you or your child in danger, you may have a good reason why you do not want child support services.
DSHS calls this reason "good cause" or "good cause not to cooperate with DCS."
Each DSHS Community Services Office (CSO) or call center has its own process for asking if child support services will pose any danger to you or your children. Find out about your local office's process.
If you are getting ready to go to your local CSO, bring all documentation that will help you explain why child support services will be dangerous. If you have a protection order, police records, medical reports, or any other documentation of your abuse, bring these along. If you do not have these documents, you can write and sign a statement outlining why you are afraid for your safety if DSHS begins child support services.
If you are afraid for your safety or the safety of your children, don't wait for someone to ask. Ask to talk to a social worker or with a domestic violence victim advocate before you disclose information about the other parent. Find out about child support and good cause not to cooperate with DCS.
Take all the opportunities DSHS workers give you to tell them your fears and concerns about collecting child support. Never assume that because you told one worker about your risks that a different worker also knows.
If no one gives you an opportunity to talk about your fears, click here to view the DSHS good cause form. Complete the form, take it with you to the DSHS office and ask to talk to a social worker. If that person does not help you, talk to someone else.
REMEMBER: Ignoring child support will not make it go away. As complicated as your life may be, do not ignore mail that asks you to take actions about your child support. If you do not understand a letter, call the person listed in the letter. If you are afraid for your safety, be sure to open and respond as best you can to all mail you get from DSHS.
There are no "magic words" that you must use to claim good cause not to cooperate with DCS. However, different people may use different words to talk about the same thing.
Make sure the CSO worker knows you are afraid that DCS efforts to establish or collect child support may be dangerous for you or your children. Try to use the phrase "good cause not to cooperate with DCS," or "child support good cause." That way, you can know you clearly made your point that you are worried about how your abuser may react when DCS tries to collect child support.
If DSHS approves your good cause claim, then one of two things will happen:
- DCS will close your case without taking any further action (this is called Good Cause Level A).
- DCS will continue to work on your case, but they will not make you help in any way and you cannot get into any trouble for not cooperating (this is called Good Cause Level B).
When DSHS grants good cause, it does not stop the child support debt owed by the other parent from growing. If there is a support order, the amount owed each month will continue to add up during the entire period good cause is in effect. This is especially important to know for the future.
If DSHS grants your good cause claim, but your good cause ends later, DCS will send the other parent notice of the debt owed.
How do you think the other parent is going to react to receiving a notice of debt from DCS? This is an important question to ask as part of ongoing safety planning for survivors faced with this type of situation.
If this happens to you, contact a social worker in your CSO immediately to talk about your concerns. If your social worker does not help you, talk to the social worker's supervisor.
If you still feel that you are in danger, you can ask for a fair hearing. A fair hearing is simply telling your story to an objective administrative law judge who can make changes in your case.
All of these processes are in place to make sure you have options to stay safe from your abuser while you need to be on TANF and medical assistance. We want you to speak up for yourself and use these processes.
If DSHS denies your good cause claim, you can ask for a fair hearing to challenge that decision. DCS does not work on your case while DSHS is making a decision about your good cause claim.
However, once the decision to deny your good cause claim is final (or if you withdraw your good cause claim), DCS will work the case and expect you to cooperate. If you still refuse to give information or otherwise help with your child support case, DSHS may reduce or stop your TANF benefits, or you may put your medical assistance at risk.
If DSHS denies your good cause claim, you have the option to not get TANF and medical assistance, or to withdraw your application for assistance.
However, if you got TANF before DSHS denied your good cause claim, even if you withdrew your TANF application because of the denial, DSHS will still try to collect child support owed for the period when you got TANF.
If this contact would cause danger to you, it is very important that you talk with a social worker, or ask for a fair hearing to try to get your good cause claim approved.
As long as you get TANF or medical assistance, DSHS will contact you about every six months to review your good cause claim. It is very important that you stay aware of your good cause status and that you clearly tell DSHS if you are still afraid or if your circumstances have changed.
If you are still afraid, make sure your worker understands you are afraid and verifies that your good cause claim remains approved. If your worker changes or stops your good cause claim, and you disagree, talk with your worker's supervisor. You may also ask for a fair hearing.
If your circumstances change, or if those of your abuser change, you may decide that it is relatively safe now to collect child support. You can withdraw your good cause claim and DCS can begin collecting support. Talk to your DSHS worker if you want to withdraw your good cause claim.
After you no longer get TANF or medical assistance, DCS will keep your case at Good Cause Level A or Good Cause Level B, and DSHS will never contact you directly to review your good cause status again unless you reopen your TANF or medical assistance case.
After DSHS approves your good cause not to cooperate with DCS, you may decide that circumstances have changed and that you now want DCS to pursue child support. If you want to withdraw your good cause claim, contact the CSO if you are still receiving TANF or medical assistance. When the CSO tells DCS that you withdrew your good cause claim, DCS can open your support case and start collecting support.
If you do not get TANF or medical assistance, you may contact DCS and complete an application for child support services. You can download the child support application online, complete it, sign it, and then send it to DCS.
When you no longer get TANF and medical assistance, you do not have to return to the CSO to withdraw your good cause claim to get DCS to start collecting child support. If the DCS worker tells you to go to the CSO, explain that because you are no longer on TANF or medical assistance, the CSO does not have to get involved. If the DCS worker insists that you have to return to the CSO, ask to talk to another staff person.
Remember, while your good cause claim was in effect, it did not stop the child support debt owed by the other parent from growing. If there is a support order, the amount of support owed each month continued to add up the entire period of time good cause was in effect.
When good cause ends, DCS will send the other parent notice of the debt owed. Think about how the other parent is going to react to receiving notice of this debt from DCS. This is an important part of ongoing safety planning for survivors faced with this type of situation.
Anyone can apply for child support. You do not have to get TANF or medical assistance to get services from DCS. If you have concerns about whether child support services may lead to harm for you or your children, contact DCS at any time.
Talk with a support enforcement officer about your safety options, which could include closing your case. If you do not get public assistance, you may choose to close your case at any time, for any reason.
Many domestic violence victims are nervous about collecting child support, but want to go forward with a support case because they need the money. Many feel that the other parent should be responsible for the children.
When it is relatively safe to do so, it makes sense to go forward. However, if it starts to be unsafe to collect child support, you can claim good cause from the CSO at any time while you are receiving TANF or medical assistance.
Remember you can ask DCS to stop collecting if the other parent reacts in a way you did not anticipate. If at any time the consequences of collecting outweigh the benefits, then you may want claim good cause and stop collecting support.
If you are on TANF or medical assistance when you want to stop or start collection, talk with your CSO worker. DCS cannot change how it works the case until you contact the CSO and talk with workers there, and perhaps go through the good cause process.
If you are not receiving any public assistance, contact DCS to discuss your concerns about safety and child support.
Any information in the DCS records about people who get child support services or pay child support is confidential. DCS can only release the information in limited circumstances and only to specified persons as provided by law.
Either party to a child support order can ask DCS to release the address of the other party. This request must be in writing and must be for a reason specified by law. DCS has a form which a party can use to ask for the address.
If DCS records have information that makes them believe release of the address may be harmful for the parent whose address is requested, DCS will deny the request, and notify that parent.
If DCS records do not have information that would make them deny the request, DCS handles the request based on the status of the person whose address is requested.
- When the noncustodial parent asks for the address of the custodial parent, DCS sends a notice to the custodial parent about the request. The custodial parent has 30 days to:
- Allow release of the address,
- Ask for an administrative hearing on the issue of disclosure,
- Give DCS a court order stopping DCS from releasing the address.
- When the custodial parent asks for the noncustodial parent's address, DCS releases the address without notice to the noncustodial parent unless the noncustodial parent previously asked DCS to send them a notice before releasing their address information.
- If the noncustodial parent told DCS they have concerns about releasing their address information, DCS follows the same notice procedure it does for a request for the custodial parent's address.
Sometimes the evidence given with the hearing request allows DCS to deny the request for disclosure.
If DCS does not get a response from the custodial parent, they release the address after the 30 days expires. This is a very good reason to read all your mail from DCS or DSHS.
For information on the Secretary of State's Address Confidentiality Program and to see if that program can help you, talk to your domestic violence advocate.
No. DCS does not represent either parent in a child support action, whether the action takes place in a court or administrative hearing.
You have the right to have an attorney represent you in court or an administrative hearing, if you are able to get one.
For an administrative hearing, you may have anyone you choose represent you.
In either place, you can represent yourself.
If you fear for your safety if you appear for a court or administrative hearing, talk with a DCS official about participating by telephone for the hearing, or being in a separate room from your abuser.
This section applies to you only if you have never legally named the father of your child or children. "Establishing paternity" is the formal term for using the court system to name the legal father or for using the Acknowledgment of Paternity process to name the legal father.
There are some good reasons to establish paternity:
- If the father dies or becomes disabled, your children may be eligible for Social Security or other dependent benefits,
- The children may be able to inherit from the father or the father's family, and
- Your children may have access to a more complete medical history.
If you are a domestic violence victim, the down side of establishing paternity is that it could open you and your children up to contact with the abuser. If you fear contact would be dangerous to you and your child, then you may want to be excused from the requirement to establish paternity. To do this when you get TANF or medical assistance, you must claim "good cause not to cooperate."
Be aware that the law allows the biological father of a child to claim paternity and ask the court to order paternity testing to see if he is, in fact, the father. You may want to consult an attorney to discuss your options. You can call the Northwest Justice Center's Coordinated Legal Education and Referral (CLEAR) line at 1-888-201-1014 for information.
DCS cannot set an order requiring a father to pay child support if paternity is not established. Paternity can be established by:
- Marriage (the husband is presumed by law to be the father of any child born during the marriage),
- Court order (the court can enter an order stating that a certain man is the father of the child) or
- Acknowledgment (unmarried parents sign and file an affidavit stating that they are the parents of the child).
If the parents were married when the child was born, Washington law presumes the husband to be the father. This means that DCS can establish a support order against the husband.
If the parents were not married at the time the child was born, or if the mother was married to a man who is not the father of the child, then the parties may:
- Sign and file an Acknowledgment of Paternity (which must be signed by the mother's husband if he is not the father),
- Ask the court to determine which man is the legal father of the child.
DCS can help you establish paternity and enter a child support order for your child or children. Either parent can apply for child support services to establish paternity. If DCS has to go to court, they will refer your case to the county prosecuting attorney.
If you get TANF or medical assistance, and you are afraid it would be dangerous for you to establish paternity, you must follow the rules for DSHS to approve good cause for not cooperating with DCS.
If you do not explain that you are afraid, or DSHS does not grant good cause, DCS and the county prosecutor will make you cooperate in establishing paternity. If you do not respond to mail or phone calls from DSHS, you may lose your benefits.
By the time you open a case with DCS, you may already be involved in a divorce or a paternity action in court. If the court has not yet filed a child support order, DCS can usually establish an administrative child support order.
This can get child support started while you are waiting for the court case to be completed or if you believe that your abuser is using the court system to further abuse or harass you by filing lots of legal papers and prolonging the matter.
When the court enters a child support order, it replaces the administrative order. However, while the court action is pending, DCS can enforce its own administrative child support order.
If you get TANF now or received welfare (TANF, Tribal TANF, or AFDC) in the past, you can get services from DCS at no charge.
Starting in October 2007, DCS must charge a fee of $25 on cases where we collect and send out at least $500 of child support during a federal fiscal year for a custodial parent who never got TANF, Tribal TANF, or AFDC for any children (not just the ones currently in your household). The federal fiscal year runs from October first through September 30th. If you have a question about whether your case would be subject to a fee, ask DCS.
If the other parent lives in another state, the other state may charge a fee. You can contact DCS to find out if fees from another state apply in your case.
Even though you are a victim of domestic violence, the DCS may enforce a child support obligation against you if there is an order for support or if the other parent asks DCS to establish an administrative support order.
Be sure to read the section above about release of address information. If you are the noncustodial parent and you believe it would be harmful or dangerous if the other parent got your address, be sure to ask for notice before DCS releases your address.
- If you provide sufficient documentation, DCS may be able to deny any request for your address without going through the notice and hearing process.
- Even if you have given this information to another part of DSHS, be sure to provide this information to DCS as soon as possible!
There are many resources available for victims and survivors of domestic violence around the state. The DSHS Children's Administration gives information about resources both inside and outside of DSHS online at http://www.dshs.wa.gov/ca/dvservices/.
If you are interested in the Secretary of State's Address Confidentiality Program (ACP), you can find information about ACP at http://www.secstate.wa.gov/acp/.
For online information about Washington state laws and agency regulations:
Special Protections for Domestic Violence Victims:
What can I do if I am afraid that cooperating with the DCS will be harmful to me or to my children?
I am worried someone will hurt my children or me. What are my options?
Good Cause Form
Basic confidentiality rules for DCS.
Are there special rules for asking for whereabouts information?
Does DCS give notice to anyone before releasing information in response to a public disclosure request?
Can the noncustodial parent ask for notice before DCS releases address information to the custodial parent?
When can DCS deny a request for address information without going through the notice and hearing process?
Representation at Hearings:
Who represents you during the hearing process?