Support Process

The Child Support Process Diagram - with steps for each paragraph below

Opening a Case section


Opening a Case

Any parent or guardian of a child in need of support may open a case with the Fresno County Department of Child Support Services. Continue reading for a list of documents and information that you will need in order to open a case. To help expedite your case, please provide as much information as possible about your child(ren) and the absent parent.

If you wish to open a case for establishment of parentage, establishment of child support, or enforcement of an existing court order, you will need to fill out some forms. You can call our office to have the forms sent to you through the mail. Our toll-free phone number is 1-866-901-3212. Our street address is on our Contacts page.

After completing the forms, bring them into the office along with any supporting documents you may have (see below) to go over them with a Child Support Officer.

If you are receiving CalWORKs or Medi-Cal benefits, the Department of Child Support Services handles your case differently. Learn about CalWORKs cases.


  • A copy of your child(ren)'s birth certificate(s)
  • Verification of your child care expenditures
  • Voluntary Declaration of Parentage (if this form was signed at the time of birth)
  • Your last three paycheck stubs
  • A copy of last year's tax returns, State and Federal
  • Any existing or previous child support orders, and any subsequent modifications (if applicable)
  • A completed Support Payment Record, and any documentation about any outstanding balance

Information About You

  • Your full legal name, address, and phone number
  • Any aliases or other names you may have used
  • Your birth date and Social Security Number
  • Name, address, and phone number of your most recent employer
  • Your marriage license or certificate, if you have one with the other parent
  • Your divorce or separation certificate, if you have one with the other parent

Information About the Other Parent

  • Their full legal name, current address, and phone number
  • Name, address, and phone number of their current, or last known employer
  • Any aliases or other names they might have used, or are using
  • Their birthdate and Social Security Number (This may be found on old paycheck stubs or tax returns)
  • Names of friends they might associate with or organizations to which they might belong
  • Information about their assets and other income (pay slips, tax returns, bank accounts, cars, boats, RVs, investments, or property holdings)
  • A current physical description and/or photograph of the other parent

Frequently Asked Questions

Locating an Absent Parent

To get a support order, establish parentage, or enforce a support order, the DCSS must know where the noncustodial parent lives and/or works. By providing the DCSS with as much information as possible, the custodial parent can help locate the noncustodial parent and speed up the child support process. See the Opening a Case section above for a list of the information the DCSS will need to expedite the case process.

If the noncustodial parent cannot be found locally, their Social Security number will be checked against the records of other state agencies including the Department of Health Services, Department of Motor Vehicles, Employment Development Department, Franchise Tax Board, Board of Equalization, credit reporting agencies, and law enforcement agencies. If the search reveals that the parent has moved to another state, the other state and the Federal Parent Locator Service will be asked to search for the parent.

Frequently Asked Questions


Establishing Parentage

What is Parentage?

"Parentage" is the recognition of a parent's legal relationship to a child.

The Parentage Opportunity Program (POP) is a voluntary program for eligible parents to establish legal parentage free of charge. This significantly decreases the time and money required to establish legal parentage through the lengthy and expensive court process. A filed Voluntary Declaration of Parentage (VDOP) has the same force and effect as a judgment for parentage issued by a court. Read about the Parentage Opportunity Program.


Establishing a Support Order

Once the Department of Child Support Services locates the absent parent, and there is no previously existing support order, the Department of Child Support Services will seek a support order for money and/or medical coverage for your child. A number of factors will determine the level of monetary and medical support.

Either parent can file a complaint with the court asking for child support. In CalWORKs cases, the DCSS will automatically file the complaint and the court order will be made payable to the county (to reimburse CalWORKs benefits paid to the custodial parent). If the location of the noncustodial parent is known, support orders can usually be obtained within 90 days.

A child support order is established based on both parent's ability to pay support, the amount of time each parent spends with the child, and the financial needs of the child. The DCSS and the court will follow the child support guidelines established by state law in Family Code Section 4055. This state law provides a standard formula for determining child support, although the court may change the amount under specific circumstances.

Medical Support

The DCSS will also ask the court to require the noncustodial parent to provide health insurance coverage, including vision and dental care, for the child. The court will order the noncustodial parent to maintain health coverage for the child, if it is available at reasonable cost. In most cases, the cost is considered reasonable if the coverage is employment-related group health insurance or other group health insurance. If coverage is not available at a reasonable cost, the court's order for support will state that health insurance coverage will be obtained by the parent if it becomes available at a reasonable cost.

Tracking Payments

A notice of how much child support is collected by the DCSS and how support is distributed for each month of the reporting period will be periodically mailed to the custodial party. The custodial party is entitled to see the payment history of the noncustodial parent who is required, by a court order, to make support payments.

In general, payments received by the DCSS are paid in the following order:

  1. To the current monthly support, unless otherwise specified in the court order
  2. To the interest owed on past-due support
  3. To the arrearages (unpaid past-due child support) or CalWORKs reimbursements (repayments to CalWORKs for past payments) or
  4. To future obligations (for example: future child support payments that come due)

Modifying Support Orders

The custodial or noncustodial parent can request that the current support order be reviewed for possible modification to change the amount of support ordered to be paid, or to provide health insurance for the children. Please read the next section: Notice of the Right to Request a Review.

Notice of Right to Request Review

The custodial party and/or the noncustodial parent has the right to request that the Department of Child Support Services review the support order to determine if the amount of support should be changed based on statewide criteria. The Department of Child Support Services is not required to review an order if:

  1. The order was reviewed for modification within the prior 12 months
  2. The order was established or adjusted within the prior 24 months or
  3. One of the parents cannot be located and there is no new information regarding their whereabouts.

The Department of Child Support Services will review an order even if it was reviewed or adjusted recently if there has been a significant change in circumstance. In this instance a significant change in circumstance is limited to either a parent becoming involuntarily unemployed, a parent becoming employed or a change in custody. Seasonal or intermittent employment that was considered by the court when establishing the support order does not qualify as a significant change in circumstance. Once the Department of Child Support Services has determined that an order will be reviewed, the review and modification process should be completed within 180 days.

The Department of Child Support Services must attempt to modify an order in any of the following circumstances:

  1. Application of the state's child support guidelines indicates that the amount of support ordered should be increased by at least $50 or 20 percent, whichever is less.
  2. Application of the state's child support guidelines indicates that the amount of support should be decreased by at least $50 or 20 percent, whichever is less, and the reason for the decrease is expected to last at least six months.
  3. There is no medical insurance provision in the order and medical insurance is available at reasonable cost to the noncustodial parent.

If the Department of Child Support Services is not required to modify the order, the Department of Child Support Services must provide to either the custodial parent and/or noncustodial parent, upon request, information on how they can get forms to ask the court to increase or decrease the amount of the support order.


Enforcing a Support Order

The Department of Child Support Services will enforce a support order if the absent parent is not making any payments, is not paying the full amount of support, or simply at the request of the custodial parent. In accordance with State and Federal guidelines, the DCSS will use several methods of enforcement to collect and distribute payments.

When the noncustodial parent doesn't pay the full amount, or doesn't pay at all, enforcement action is necessary. The DCSS strives to make sure that child support payments are regularly made and in the correct amount and that health insurance, if ordered, is provided for the child. The best method of enforcement is determined on a case by case basis. Every case is different.

Decisions will be made based on all the information in the case, including the noncustodial parent's payment history, the date of the last payment, where they live and work, the noncustodial parent's income, and what kind of assets they have.

The DCSS will try to get the noncustodial parent to voluntarily pay. If this is unsuccessful, the DCSS will utilize as many enforcement tools as is necessary. Enforcement methods are outlined in the following:

Mandatory Wage Withholding

The Family Support Act of 1988 requires that child support payments be withheld from a noncustodial parent's paycheck from the time that child support is ordered. The noncustodial parent's earnings will be withheld unless they can: 1) show good cause why it should not be done, or 2) has an alternative arrangement with the DCSS and the custodial parent. (Good cause and alternative arrangements concerning earning assignments are specified in state law in Family Code Section 5260).

The employer of the noncustodial parent is served with a court order to withhold a specified amount of current support and back child support, with instructions to send the wages to the DCSS for distribution. Once a wage assignment is served, the employer must honor it as long as the noncustodial parent remains employed.

An employer may not take more than 50 percent of the noncustodial parent's disposable earnings unless ordered to do so by the court. The wage assignment order has priority over any other withholding order against the noncustodial parent. If you are a noncustodial parent and your employer is deducting more than 50 percent, contact the DCSS.

Health Insurance Coverage Assignment

A health insurance coverage assignment is a court order that requires the noncustodial parent's employer (or other person providing health insurance to the noncustodial parent) to enroll the child(ren) in the parent's health insurance plan. The order also authorizes the employer to deduct the cost of the health care premiums from the noncustodial parent's earnings. The employer is instructed to notify the DCSS of any lapse or change in the health insurance coverage.

Real Property Liens

The Department of Child Support Services will record support orders and judgment with the county recorder to create a lien against any real property in that county in which a noncustodial parent has or acquires an interest. Any action by the noncustodial parent to sell or refinance is prevented unless the lien is satisfied in full, or other arrangements are made with the DCSS.

If you are involved in a real estate transaction and a recorded judgment is discovered, have your title company contact our office by fax, (559) 494-1920.

California FTB Collections

In January 1993, a law went into effect that allows the Franchise Tax Board to help collect past-due support. The Franchise Tax Board is allowed to collect money from bank accounts and wages to pay for child support. The FTB can also confiscate property like boats, land and motorcycles.

Statewide Intercept and Information System

Internal Revenue Service and Franchise Tax Board Tax Refund Intercept Systems
Intercepts noncustodial parents' state and federal income tax refunds to pay their past-due child support.

Unemployment Insurance Benefit Intercept System
Intercepts a portion of state unemployment payments owed to noncustodial parents to pay their past-due child support.

Disability Insurance Benefit Intercept System
Intercepts a portion of state disability payments owed to noncustodial parents to pay their past-due child support.

Lottery Winners Intercept
Intercepts lottery winnings owed to noncustodial parents to pay past-due child support.

Credit Reporting System
Reports the names of noncustodial parents who have court orders requiring that they pay support, to all major credit reporting companies as good or bad credit risks.

State Licensing Match System (SLMS)
Denies permanent state issued business, professional and driver's licenses (for example: cosmetologist, contractor, doctor, teacher, attorney, class A, B, and C drivers licenses) to noncustodial parents who owe past-due child support and apply for a license or a renewal. Denies these same licenses to noncustodial parents who are four months or more behind in paying support whether or not they are renewing. Revokes the licenses of any noncustodial parent who fails to continue to comply with an agreement to pay past-due support in order to obtain a license.

New Hire Registry
Employers in 17 industries must report new or rehired employees to the Employment Development Department within 30 days. Matches with the New Hire Registry provide the DCSS with early identification when a noncustodial parent becomes employed.

Assets Match Program
Identifies interest and dividend income paid to noncustodial parents who owe past-due child support.

Workers' Compensation Appeals Board Match System
Collects workers' compensation lump sum payments owed to noncustodial parents who owe past-due child support.

Board of Equalization Sales and Use Tax Intercept System
Intercepts sales and/or use tax refunds owed to noncustodial parents who owe past-due child support.

Alaska Permanent Fund Dividend Match
Intercepts dividend payments owed to noncustodial parents who owe past-due child support.

Civil and Criminal Remedies

When a noncustodial parent fails to pay, and other methods of enforcement are unsuccessful, the Department of Child Support Services can take them to court. The most common forms of court action include:

Order to Show Cause to Seek Work
In this action, the court will order the noncustodial parent to actively seek work. They will be ordered to return to court at a later date to monitor compliance.

Order to Show Cause for Examination
In this action, the noncustodial parent is required to notify the court of all income and assets. The court can order that the noncustodial parent seek work.

Order to Show Cause for Contempt
In this action, if it is determined that the noncustodial parent had knowledge of the order and could have paid child support, but did not, they are found to be in contempt of the court order. If found guilty of contempt, the noncustodial parent can be ordered to perform community service, or serve jail time.

Frequently Asked Questions


Information for Noncustodial Parents

Noncustodial parents, or parents who currently do not have primary physical custody of their child(ren), have an important role in the child support process. This section helps to explain their role and answers some of the most commonly asked questions of noncustodial parents.

What is an NCP?

A Noncustodial Parent (NCP) does not have physical custody of their child(ren). However, they do have an important role in the child support process. When the DCSS brings a legal action against the noncustodial parent for child support, he or she may discuss the matter with a DCSS representative. NCPs may contact the DCSS by telephone or in person during normal business hours. Visit the contacts page for more information.

Remember, the Department of Child Support Services does not represent the noncustodial parent, custodial party, the child(ren) in the case, or any other individual. The Department of Child Support Services represents the public interest in all cases. Click here for more information about your legal relationship with the Department of Child Support Services. As the NCP, you have a right to be represented by a lawyer or private attorney.

A Child Support Judgment

A judgment by the court may be entered against the noncustodial parent unless they file a written answer (responsive pleading) with the clerk of the Superior Court within 30 days of when they were served with the summons and complaint papers (see the next topic). This will happen whether or not the noncustodial parent has a lawyer. If the noncustodial parent is served with a document stating the date of a court hearing, they should appear in court on the date shown. If the noncustodial parent does not show up, an order can still be entered.

If the noncustodial parent and the DCSS are able to reach an agreement regarding the requests made in the papers served, the noncustodial parent may handle the matter by signing an agreement called a stipulation. By signing a stipulation, the noncustodial parent is agreeing that:

  1. They are the parent of the child(ren)
  2. They are obligated to pay the amount of child support and provide the health insurance stated in the stipulation; and
  3. The court may enter an order or judgment based on the stipulation without further notice.

State law requires that interest at the rate of 10% be computed on unpaid child support. If you think a mistake has been made, contact our office.

Filing a Responsive Pleading

If the noncustodial parent files an answer (responsive pleading), they have a right to a court hearing. The noncustodial parent also has the right to have the court determine how much they will have to pay for support. If the noncustodial parent (in this case an alleged father) denies that he is the father of the child(ren), he has the right to request the court order paternity blood tests to determine if he is really the father. The court may order that he pay none, some or all the costs of the tests.

Wage Assignments and Deductions for Health Insurance

All orders for child support must include a wage and earnings assignment requiring the noncustodial parent's employer to deduct child support payments from the noncustodial parent's salary or wages. An order to deduct health insurance premiums for the child(ren) may also be ordered.

Modification of Child Support Orders

The noncustodial parent can request that the DCSS review their case for modification. The amount of the child support order may be modified by increasing or decreasing the order or by requiring the noncustodial parent to provide health insurance for the child(ren). Based on financial and other information that both the custodial parent and noncustodial parent must provide, the DCSS will determine if a modification for a higher or lower amount is justified. Both parents will be informed of the DCSS's decision.

If the noncustodial parent is laid off, they should immediately notify the DCSS. The noncustodial parent can request a review for modification of the support order. If the custodial parent allows the child(ren) to visit or live with the noncustodial parent on a long-term or permanent basis, the noncustodial parent should immediately take action to have their support order terminated or modified by the court. The noncustodial parent may request that the order be modified, but they should also contact the DCSS to discuss the situation. As long as there is a current support order requiring the noncustodial parent to pay support, unless the noncustodial parent takes immediate action, they may be required to pay support even if the child(ren) are living with them.

Failure to Pay Child Support

The noncustodial parent's duty to pay child support may be enforced by a contempt action, punishable by a jail sentence and/or a fine. NCPs should become familiar with the methods of enforcement (see section above) used by the Department of Child Support Services.


Legal Information

It's important that you understand what your legal relationship is with the Department of Child Support Services. If you desire more personalized assistance for your support case, you may seek the services of a private attorney.

The DCSS and You

The DCSS does not represent either the parents or the child(ren), and our attorneys are not your attorneys. Because you are not a legal client, the information you provide is not confidential under the attorney/client privileges. The information in your case may be discussed or disclosed to other public agencies that are authorized by law to receive such information, the other parent's employer and to the other parent or their attorney to the extent required by law. See "How the DCSS Handles Confidential Information" below.

By law, the DCSS has the final decision on what child support enforcement actions will be taken, even if the custodial parent disagrees. Parents have the right to seek legal advice from a private attorney or legal aid group at their own expense at any time.

Seeking Alternative Legal Assistance

In addition to the Fresno County Department of Child Support Services, private attorneys and legal clinics can provide legal assistance in child support cases.

A private attorney can provide personalized services to parents. They can give as much time to a case as is necessary to do an effective job. The biggest drawback is expense. A private attorney will charge for the time required for personal interviews, telephone calls, legal research, court appearances, and the preparation of pleadings. If the custodial party cannot afford an attorney, the noncustodial parent may be ordered to pay reasonable attorney fees and court costs. However, it is up to the judge to decide how much, if any, of the legal fees the noncustodial parent may be ordered to pay.

Services offered by a legal clinic may cost less than those provided by a private attorney. Legal clinics may charge for services based on the actual time spent on a case or on a contingency fee basis.

Family Law Facilitator's Office

There is a free legal service available to those clients representing themselves in child support issues. The Fresno County Family Law Facilitator's Office can be reached by calling (559) 457-2100. Clients are seen by appointment only.

List of Family Law Facilitators throughout California

How the DCSS Handles Confidential Information

By law, the records kept by our office are strictly confidential and may not be seen without a court order by the custodial parents, the children, or the noncustodial parent. However, you are entitled to see:

  • Any document you provided to the Department of Child Support Services
  • Your payment history
  • Any record legally defined as a "public record"

Frequently Asked Questions

Military Personnel

As a member of the military, you should be aware of the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act. You may be entitled to some credit toward your child support arrears. Learn more about this Act and other information for active military personnel.


Case Closing

There are many reasons why a child support case can be closed. When a case is closed it means that DCSS will no longer provide services for that case. The fact that a case is closed has no impact on the underlying orders for support. If a Person Paying Support (PPS) still has an order for support, they must continue to pay that support to the Person Receiving Support (PRS). 

A case being managed by the DCSS can be closed for many reasons. The most common reason a case closes is that the youngest child reaches the age of 18, is no longer a full-time high school student, and no past-due balances are owed. A Person Receiving Support who is not receiving aid ("welfare") can also request to close their case at any time. If there are arrears owed to the State, DCSS will leave the case open and continue to enforce those arrears but will stop enforcing current support and arrears owed to the PRS. A PRS who is receiving aid cannot close a case because all the support they are entitled to while on aid is assigned to the State.

All case records are maintained for at least four years and four months in accordance with federal law.


Frequently Asked Questions