In Virginia, the state agency that helps parents collect child support is part of the Department of Human Services and is called the “Division of Child Support Enforcement” or DCSE or, when they are talking about themselves, just “the division.” A parent can apply for services with DCSE and the division will do the legal work necessary to establish a child support order and enforce it. The services DCSE provides are free.
If the parents are married, the law assumes they are the biological parents of any child born during the marriage. If the date of birth falls between the date of marriage and the date of divorce, the husband can only avoid the obligation to pay support by filing a petition to determine paternity and proving they are not the biological father through genetic testing. This, of course, does not apply if the husband has adopted the child.
If the parents are not married, DCSE will file a paternity case if the man the mother says fathered the child denies he is the father. If the test confirms paternity, the judge will sign a formal court order declaring the man is the legal father of the child. If the test says the man is not the father, the judge will sign an order that there is no paternity and the man will have no obligation to support the child.
When paternity is clear, DCSE will ask the parents for proof of their incomes, day care costs, and what they are paying to have health insurance for the child. A DCSE caseworker will calculate how much child support must be paid every month. If the parent who pays is employed, DCSE can send the employer a letter requiring them to withhold the support from the parent’s paycheck and pay the money to DCSE in Richmond. DCSE then sends the money on to the parent who is owed support.
DCSE does not have to go to court to do this. They have the authority to order it themselves. It’s called an “administrative support order.” Unless the parties appeal it to the Juvenile Court, an administrative support order has the same legal effect as an order signed by a judge.
DCSE can also file a case in the Juvenile Court and have a judge issue the support order. Lawyers hired by DCSE appear in Virginia’s Juvenile Courts every day to establish paternity, to have judges sign support orders and to enforce those orders when a parent doesn’t pay. The paying parents are mostly fathers but there are cases where the father has custody and the mother pays or where neither parent has custody and both are required to pay money to the person who has custody.
Dealing with DCSE’s case workers can be frustrating. I prefer to file a case in the Juvenile Court and sort things out with DCSE’s lawyers, who are very competent and knowledgeable. If you are getting nowhere with your caseworker, it can sometimes pay to hire an attorney to deal with DCSE’s lawyers on your behalf.
If you have any doubt about paternity, it is worth it to have the genetic testing and be sure about it. Child support has to be paid until the child is 18 or 19, depending on when they graduate from high school. Over time, a support order can require you to pay tens of thousands of dollars. If someone else is the father, they should have that responsibility.