The Effect of Child Support on Public Assistance

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After parents separate, it's not uncommon for their levels of income to change. This is especially true if one parent was financially dependent on the other. If you're in a position where you need public assistance after your divorce your child support payments will probably come up.

Prior to granting benefits, any government office will inquire as to whether you're receiving child support from the child's mother or father. If not, they will make every effort to collect child support from the parent, in order to recoup some of the expenses which would otherwise be paid by the government.

In addition, the government will also seek reimbursement directly from the parent whose name is on the birth certificate, or from the person identified as the other parent by the individual seeking government assistance.

The Government's Role in Child Support

The reason the government takes an active role in making sure child support payments are made is to protect the child and the taxpayer. If a parent does not support the child, the responsibility falls to the state. Because government support is income-based, many parents may have a difficult time applying for public aid when a child support order is in place.

This doesn't mean you can not receive public assistance if you owe child support but it will be taken into consideration when you apply. Public benefits include assistance with:

Separation, Child Support, and Public Assistance

If one parent is financially dependent on the other but is determined to separate, they may proactively attempt to obtain public assistance. However, without an actual separation order in place, a government office will not authorize government benefits. Instead, the parents will continue to be viewed as a dependent.

A parent, seeking government assistance, who has yet to divorce, should seek a legal separation agreement, filed with the court. You'll need a separation agreement with a support provision. You can then take that to the government assistance office, and they can offset their assistance amount with the child support agreement. In most states, a separation agreement will merge into a divorce decree after one year.

Same-Sex Partners and Child Support

Generally, courts are reluctant to enforce a child support obligation on a parent who lacks a biological connection to the child. However, an obligation often exists for a same-sex partner to support a child, upon separation, if the parents legally agreed to become co-parents.

In this case, the court will enforce child support obligations prior to providing government benefits, or the court will seek reimbursement for government benefits currently being provided on behalf of the child.

Prior to applying for government assistance, make sure that there is a proper child support order in place. If there isn't, the government will expect you to apply for child support or will attempt to obtain reimbursement from the other parent for some of the public assistance benefits paid to you and your child.

4 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. 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.

  2. Government benefits.

  3. Moffitt RA. The deserving poor, the family, and the U.S. welfare system. Demography. 2015;52(3):729-49. doi:10.1007/s13524-015-0395-0

  4. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Administration for Children and Families. Office of Child Support Enforcement. Handbook on child support enforcement.

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.