Child Support and Food Stamps

Mom & daughter doing grocery shopping for fresh fruit in supermarket
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Typically, when a parent applies for government assistance through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (also known as SNAP, the benefits of which are commonly referred to as food stamps), they have the option of including their children, meaning that they can file for individual assistance or family assistance programs.

However, the state would prefer for children of single parents to receive child support over public assistance, whenever possible. For that reason, in cases where a single parent who is not receiving child support requests public assistance on behalf of their child, the state will usually initiate a child support case—regardless of whether the parent wants a case or not.

It is important for single parents to consider child support matters when requesting benefits through SNAP. Let's explore the connection between child support and food stamps to help empower parents to make the best decisions for their families.

Child Support and Income for Food Stamps

The connection between child support and food stamps is an important one, as one-fifth of all families who receive SNAP benefits also receive child support payments. To begin, it's helpful to consider when support is included as income for the purposes of determining eligibility for government assistance.

When a parent receives child support, that support is usually calculated as part of their income. This is true whether or not there is a court order in place to mandate child support. But if a parent is not receiving child support payments they are entitled to, those missing payments are not considered as income.

If a parent pays child support, on the other hand, those payments are deducted from their income to help evaluate eligibility for SNAP benefits. So, in that scenario, the paying parent might qualify for food assistance if their income threshold drops after support payments are deducted.

If a parent informally pays child support without a court order, however, those payments are not deducted when calculating income.

If You Don't Have a Child Support Order

If no child support order is in place and public assistance is requested on behalf of a child, the governmental agency will file for child support on behalf of the custodial 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.

If the Government Files a Child Support Case

States have the right to require parents seeking certain government benefits to comply with child support agencies working to establish paternity and support orders and to enforce these orders as a condition of eligibility.

They do this by requesting the parent to sign over their right to sue for child support to the governmental agency and filing on behalf of the government. If the governmental agency is successful in the child support suit, then the 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 government support provided for the child. How much of the money is used as reimbursement depends on the state.

If the Parent Files a Child Support Case

If a government agency imposes a child support order on a parent, it's highly likely the other 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 do it on their behalf.

The parent would file for child support and inform the caseworker at the public assistance office they have filed for child support. The guidance of a trusted family law attorney can help parents navigate this process. The American Bar Association offers information and resources for attorneys and programs serving low-income families.

Factors Affecting Public Assistance Funds

Some parents wonder whether they will receive more money by filing for child support versus filing for SNAP benefits and other forms of public assistance, including Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) and Medicaid.

Parents trying to determine the best approach should be mindful of the following:

  • Filing for government assistance can jeopardize informal child support arrangements that allow room for flexibility as employment and finances change from time to time.
  • Parents can file for government assistance on their own, without requesting aid for minor children (although the amount of aid received will be less).
  • If the parent feels child support is sufficient to provide for the child, they can opt to cancel public assistance.
  • Larger child support payments may increase the parent's income to the point they are ineligible for public assistance (depending on the state).

If the parent's public assistance case is canceled for any reason, they will receive child support payments directly instead of them being diverted to the relevant 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.

5 Sources
Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. Child Support Cooperation Requirements in SNAP Are Unproven, Costly, and Put Families at Risk.

  2. U.S. Department of Agriculture; Food and Nutrition Service. SNAP eligibility.

  3. Office of Child Support Enforcement. Child Support Handbook.

  4. U.S. Department of Agriculture; Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. State flexibilities related to custodial and noncustodial parents' cooperation with state child support agencies.

  5. Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. A quick guide to SNAP eligibility and benefits.

By Debrina Washington
Debrina Washington is a New York-based family law attorney and writer, who runs her own virtual practice to assist single parents with legal issues.