Enforcement: Washington State Division of Child Support
Washington State Department of Social and Health Services Home page

Division of Child Support


Despite recent record improvements in paternity establishment and child support collections, much more needs to be done to ensure that all children born out-of-wedlock have paternity established and that all non-custodial parents provide financial support for their children. Currently, only about one-half of the custodial parents due child support receive full payment. About twenty-five percent receive partial payment and twenty-five percent receive nothing.

In an effort to strengthen and improve state child support enforcement activities, several federal laws were passed, including a national new-hire reporting system.

These laws required states to pass uniform interstate child support laws, automate enforcement actions, and provide for tougher noncompliance penalties, such as driver's license revocation.

General Enforcement

Tax Refund Offset

Conference Boards - Your rights to be heard

Contempt and Federal Criminal Non-support Referral

Noncompliance with Support Enforcement Inquiries, Subpoenas, and Withholding Actions

What does DCS do to enforce support?

DCS can take all of the following actions to enforce support:

  1. Attach wages.
  2. Attach unemployment compensation.
  3. Attach workmen's compensation (Labor & Industries).
  4. Attach pensions not protected under federal law.
  5. Attach non-earned funds payable to the non-custodial parent.
  6. Attach settlements as the result of lawsuits.
  7. Attach funds in financial institutions.
  8. File liens with county auditors where real or personal property is located.
  9. File liens against vehicles or vessels licensed with the Department of Licensing.
  10. Seize property held in safety deposit boxes.
  11. Seize vehicles or other personal property for sale at public auction.
  12. Request the suspension of drivers, professional and recreational licenses.
  13. Refer cases for judicial enforcement.
  14. Attach federal IRS income tax refunds and other federal payable funds.
  15. Non-renewal of U.S. Passports.
  16. Report debt to credit reporting agencies.
  17. Post names to the DCS Most Wanted Internet site.
  18. Refer cases to an Indian tribe for establishment or enforcement.

DCS takes some collection actions, like income withholding, right away. If the noncustodial parent owes back support, we file a lien.

Federal law requires that some actions be taken on child support cases without the involvement of Support Enforcement Officers. These "automated actions" may include IRS certification, credit bureau reporting, and passport denial. Federal law requires that DCS file a lien on all back support debts. Support orders must contain immediate wage withholding language. DCS must initiate immediate wage withholding no later than 3 days after receiving the support order. If the support order requires a delinquency before enforcement, DCS must initiate income withholding no later than 15 days from date the payment was due.

Federal or state law require that DCS wait until a certain amount of debt is reached before DCS takes some actions, such as license suspension and passport non-renewal.

How can DCS enforce support if the non-custodial parent lives out of state or in another country?

If the noncustodial parent lives in another state or U.S. territory, DCS can ask the other jurisdiction to establish or enforce a support order. Once the case is sent to another jurisdiction, the other jurisdiction has control over most of the actions taken on the case.

If the non-custodial parent lives in a foreign country, DCS may have an agreement with the country to enforce a child support order. Contact DCS to find out if the country where the noncustodial parent lives has reciprocity with Washington.

How can DCS enforce support if the noncustodial parent lives on an Indian Reservation or is employed by a Tribal enterprise or an Indian-owned business located on a reservation or trust land?

DCS works with tribal governments to address these cases. DCS and the State Tribal Relations Unit have worked together to negotiate agreements and processes with Indian tribes. Some agreements include referring cases to the tribe or tribal court for the establishment or enforcement of child support. For more information visit the DCS Tribal Relations Website.

Does my case qualify for IRS tax refund offset?

If the noncustodial parent has an IRS refund due, the IRS will withhold all or part of the refund to pay a past-due support debt. Only the state where you applied for services can ask the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) to attach a tax refund.

DCS uses the following criteria for IRS refund tax offset:

  • The noncustodial parent's correct Social Security number is on the case record.
  • The past-due amount owed to you must be $500 or more.
  • The amount must have accrued under a valid support order and DCS must have a copy on file.

If the children ever received public assistance, back support may be owed to the state. The amount owed to the state must equal $150 or more and be three months past due to qualify for tax-refund offset.

How does DCS distribute IRS tax-refund offset collections?

Between October 1, 2008, and June 30, 2010, DCS applied IRS tax-refund offset collections to the debt owed to the custodial parent before state debt. During this period, DCS could apply IRS tax-refund offset collections to both current support and arrears. Beginning July 1, 2010, DCS applies tax-refund offset collections to child support obligations as it did before October 1, 2008. This means that DCS will only apply tax-refund offset collections to back support owed, and these collections are always applied first to debt owed to the state.

Why did DCS change how it distributes IRS tax-refund collections?

This change back to how DCS applied tax-refund offset collections before October 2008 is based on the budget decisions made by the Washington State Legislature during the 2010 session.

When will I receive support money from the IRS refund?

The IRS sends payments to DCS about six weeks after the filing of the tax return. Either the noncustodial parent or the joint-return spouse may request an IRS administrative review to contest attachment. DCS must hold the IRS funds awaiting the hearing decision.

Why is my passport being denied or revoked?

Per federal law, 22 CFR 52.70(a)(8), passports are denied and/or revoked for any individual who is more than $2500 in arrears in their child support obligation.

The noncustodial parent is notified in the IRS pre-offset notice that the Department of State (DOS) through the federal Office of Child Support Enforcement (OCSE) will deny issuance or renewal of their passport when their child support debt reaches $2500.

Once the threshold of $2500 has been reached, the denial/revocation will remain in place until the debt is paid in full or is exempted by DCS. NOTE: Effective October 1, 2006 the threshold for passport denial/revocation will be lowered to $2500.

Under what circumstances will my passport be released?

DCS will notify DOS through OCSE to release the passport if the noncustodial parent:

  1. Pays the debt in full
  2. Needs the passport for employment or deployment
  3. Has a family emergency

NOTE: Reasons 2 and 3 are not automatic releases.

Noncustodial parents requesting that their passports be released for employment or deployment must provide written verification from their employer (employment) or their commanding officer (deployment).

A family emergency is defined as a life or death situation involving an immediate family member. The federal government defines an immediate family member as:
  • Parent, guardian, or stepparent
  • Child or stepchild
  • Grandparent
  • Sibling or stepsibling
  • Aunt or uncle
  • Spouse

The noncustodial parent must provide verification in the form of a letter from either a doctor or hospital (on letterhead) or the Red Cross.

What do I do if I think my Support Enforcement Officer is wrong?

DCS wants to resolve grievances at the first possible level, without the necessity of a Conference Board. If you contest a DCS action:

  • Contact the Support Enforcement Officer (SEO) assigned to the case and explain your grievance. If the SEO cannot resolve your grievance, ask the SEO what your options are.
  • If the action allows you to request an administrative hearing, click here for information on Administrative Hearings.
  • If a hearing is unavailable to you, and the matter is still unresolved, ask to talk to your SEO's Lead worker.
  • When the Lead worker cannot resolve the matter, you must talk to the Supervisor before requesting a Conference Board Request. The Supervisor may be able to resolve the issue.
  • When you receive the Conference Board Request, describe your grievance as thoroughly as possible.
  • Send it to the DCS Field Office handling your case.
  • DCS may issue a Conference Board Decision based solely on your written statement and information available in the case record. If a Conference Board is to be held, DCS will notify you where and when to appear.
  • DCS will send you a written Decision after holding the Conference Board. Your SEO will honor that Decision.

What is a Conference Board?

DCS uses a Conference Board to resolve grievances when an administrative hearing is unavailable. Child support laws are very complex and sometimes inflexible. If you feel aggrieved by a DCS action or dissatisfied with an employee, please read the following. It may explain why DCS took an action on your case.

Federal law requires that some actions be taken on child support cases without the involvement of Support Enforcement Officers. These "automated actions" may include IRS certification, credit bureau reporting, and passport denial. Federal law requires that DCS file a lien on all back support debts. Support orders must contain immediate wage withholding language. DCS must initiate immediate wage withholding no later than 3 days after receiving the support order. If the support order requires a delinquency before enforcement, DCS must initiate income withholding no later than 15 days from date the payment was due.

Read more about Conference Boards.

What do I do when too much money is being withheld from my paycheck?

  • Contact your Support Enforcement Officer (SEO) to negotiate payments.
  • Your SEO may ask you to complete a Resource Statement. Click here for a Resource Statement, DSHS 18-97. Show all of your monthly expenses, periodic bills, and assets on the Resource Statement.
  • DCS wants to reach a repayment agreement that you can live with, yet taking your children's needs into consideration.
  • Ask your SEO if you can negotiate an escalation clause in your payment agreement. This allows DCS to collect a lesser amount towards back support in the beginning and increase the amount as you pay off some of your outstanding bills.
  • Back support payments may depend on how old your support obligation is. You may be asked to sign a Waiver of the Statute of Limitations. This also allows DCS to collect a lesser amount towards back support.
  • If you cannot come to a repayment agreement with your SEO, follow the instruction above to request a Conference Board.

How does DCS collect the noncustodial parent's support payments when they are not employed?

Depending on the circumstances of the case, DCS may try to collect support from a non-wage earning noncustodial parent in a number of ways, including:
  • Suspending driver's, recreational, and occupational licenses.
  • Attaching bank or retirement accounts.
  • Filing liens on real and personal property.
  • Seizing vehicles.
  • Posting the case to the DCS Most Wanted Internet site at the written request of the custodial parent.
  • Asking the court to find the noncustodial parent in contempt of court.

Enforcement by Judicial Action in the Superior Courts

When DCS is unable to collect unpaid support through the application of its various administrative remedies (for example, wage withholding, liens against real and personal property, bank seizures, license suspension, etc.) it may refer the unpaid child support order to a Prosecuting Attorney for review and possible filing for judicial enforcement. The responsibility for presenting the case in court lies with the Prosecuting Attorney. Therefore, each Prosecuting Attorney's office sets the criteria the case must meet before accepting the referral from DCS or filing the case in court for judicial action. When a Prosecuting Attorney files a case for judicial enforcement, the prosecutor represents the State of Washington, and does not represent either the CP or NCP.

How does DCS collect payments if the noncustodial parent is unemployed and living out of state?

DCS tries to collect from out of state noncustodial parents with the help of the other state. We may ask the other state to try license suspension, asset seizure, or other remedies.

When all of these fail, DCS may refer a case to the U.S. Attorney for Federal Criminal Non-support. This is a criminal case referral. Unlike a contempt action, conviction requires evidence "beyond a reasonable doubt" in U.S. Federal Court.

The case must meet certain criteria for DCS Central Operations in Olympia to send the evidence to the U.S. Attorney's office. A case may be brought in either the state where the child resides or in the state where the non-custodial parent lives. In most cases, it is the state where the child resides which refers the case.

  • DCS must be providing full-collection services.
  • The non-custodial parent cannot live in the same state as the child.
  • DCS has exhausted all other collection remedies.
  • At least $5,000 is due in back support.
  • DCS has received no payments in at least six months.
  • DCS has evidence that the non-custodial parent can pay support.

If you would like DCS to consider referral to the U.S. Attorney for Federal Criminal Non-support referral, contact your DCS Support Enforcement Officer or DCS Central Operations.

What is noncompliance?

Noncompliance is the failure of a person, business, or other entity to take action as required by an inquiry, subpoena, or income-withholding instrument issued by any state's child support enforcement agency.

Noncompliance is the failure to:

  • Respond to an inquiry from a child support enforcement agency.

  • Comply with a subpoena issued by a child support enforcement agency.

  • Return the Answer to an income-withholding instrument or notice of enrollment.

  • Withhold support required under a lien or an income-withholding instrument. The party is liable for either the amount that should have been withheld, or for the debt amount on an Order to Withhold and Deliver, whichever is less.

  • Remit withheld support monies to the child support enforcement agency.

  • Enroll children in an available medical plan required under a Notice of Enrollment.

  • Report a new hired employee.

When someone is in noncompliance, what action does DCS take?

  • DCS first sends a Noncompliance Warning letter to advise the party of the action to take to be in compliance with the inquiry, subpoena, withholding notice, or notice of enrollment.

  • If the party refuses to comply, DCS issues a Notice of Noncompliance. The Notice shows the amount of support owed by the non-complying party, the period for which it is owed, and any fines or penalties assessed for noncompliance.

  • The party has 20 days to comply or contact DCS to set up a payment agreement, or to request an adjudicative proceeding if they contest the amounts on the notice. DCS staff attempt to resolve the matter before holding the adjudicative proceeding.

  • If the party takes no action after receiving the Notice of Noncompliance, DCS will take enforcement action against the non-complying party's assets. This may include business license suspension.

What fines can DCS assess for noncompliance?

  • If an employer fails to enroll a child in an available medical plan, DCS may fine the employer $200 for the first month of non-enrollment, $300 for the second month, and $500 for the third month, not to exceed $1,000 for each Notice of Enrollment. RCW 48.01.235 requires the employer not to wait until the next open enrollment to enroll the child, but to enroll the child immediately.

  • DCS can assess a fine of $100 for each failure to comply with an inquiry, subpoena, lien, or withholding instrument.

  • DCS may impose fines when an employer fails to report the hiring of a new employee at $25 per employee per month, or $500 if failure to report is the result of a conspiracy between the employer and employee.