Food Stamps and Child Support

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Typically, when a parent files for governmental assistance, they have the option of including a child. This means a parent can file for individual assistance or family assistance.


The state would prefer that the child receives child support, if possible, instead of public assistance. Therefore, when a single mother who is not receiving child support requests public assistance on behalf of her child, the state will usually initiate a child support case, whether the mother wants a case filed or not.

It is important for single mothers to consider the ramifications of requesting public assistance. Let's explore the connection between filing for public assistance and child support, as well as some alternatives.

When the Government Files

If public assistance is requested on behalf of a child, the governmental agency will file for child support on behalf of the parent. If the support obligor is the father, the agency can only file if the father of the child is known.

The agency will generally look to the name on a child's birth certificate. If a presumed father wants to contest paternity, he will have an opportunity to obtain a paternity test. The governmental agency can file for child support against a parent by:

  • If a governmental agency is successful in the child support suit, then a parent may receive a small amount of the child support proceeds, while the majority of the support will be delivered to the government agency as reimbursement for support made to the child
  • Requesting a parent to sign over his/her right to sue for child support to the governmental agency

Filing on Your Own

If a governmental agency imposes a child support order on a parent, it's highly likely that a parent will not receive the proceeds of the child support funds. However, a parent can file for child support on their own instead of having the government agency doing it. The process is as follows:

  • File for child support in your state's family court
  • Inform your caseworker at the public assistance office that you've filed for child support

Note: the governmental agency may still look to collect child support funds to reimburse the agency for public medical expenses, as well as support paid to the custodial parent.

Child Support or Public Assistance

Some parents may wonder whether they will receive more money by filing for child support or by filing for public assistance. Parents who are trying to determine the best approach should be mindful of the following:

  • A parent can continue to receive public assistance, without the child on the case
  • A parent may decide to stop a child's public assistance case himself if they determine that the child support funds are sufficient
  • Public assistance may reduce or cancel your case if the child support funds are enough to support the child
  • Without public assistance funds, a parent may still receive other assistance for a child such as medical benefits and food stamps

If a parent's public assistance case is canceled or the parent cancels the case him/herself, the parent will begin to receive child support payments directly, instead of the payments being diverted to the government agency.

A Word From Verywell

Understanding the nuances of child support and public assistance may be difficult for some parents. For more information about child support, parents should visit the child support guidelines of their respective state or speak with a qualified attorney.

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Article Sources
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  1. U.S. Department of Health & Human Services. Office of the Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation. Child support and TANF interaction: Literature review, April 2003. Updated April 2003.