How to File for Child Support in California

Your child relies on you for food, shelter, warmth, health care, and so much more. Raising a child born in 2015 could cost an estimated $310,000 or more. Few parents can handle these expenses alone. They should share the expense, even if they're no longer functioning as a family unit.

Filing for child support can help. California's Child Support Services team can help you get the funds you need when you need them.

A court order for child support (such as one you might get during your divorce) doesn't open a child support case. Instead, you must file with the Child Support Services agency. Here are the steps to follow:

Step 1: Fill out an application

The California Child Support Services agency requires paperwork to initiate a case. Courts and the agency don't communicate independently. You must kick off the conversation. 

An online application (like this one) takes about 45 minutes to complete, and you must answer each question as clearly and honestly as you can. 

If you need assistance with the form, head to your local agency (find it here). Staff can give you paper copies of the document, and they can help you understand how to answer each item on the form.

Step 2: Connect with the other parent

Some parents know where the child's parent lives or works. They can enter this data on enrollment forms, and the case can move forward quickly.

Parents who don't know where the other parent is should provide identifying information, such as the following for the person:

  • Social Security number
  • Date of birth 
  • Last known location

When the agency finds the other parent, they'll create a packet of documents and deliver them. The parent has 30 days to respond. Parents who don't respond can be ordered to pay an amount the agency deems appropriate. 

Step 3: Create an agreement 

Some agencies offer mediation, allowing couples to set child support payments in a safe and supported environment. They can skip the courtroom, which saves both time and money. And these meetings can reduce stress levels too.

Couples that agree sign formal documents filed with the courts, and the payments are court-mandated. 

If couples can't agree, they must go to court. The agency can help couples fill out paperwork, file it, and set dates with the California court system. Trials move quickly, and parents should be prepared to offer proof of their income and debts. At the end of a court case, judges set a formal child support payment amount.

Step 4: Make or receive payments 

If courts order payments, the funds are withheld from the parent's wages before paychecks are cut. All payments are recorded by the Child Support Services agency.

Some parents attempt to skip payments by quitting their jobs or accepting under-the-table payments from illicit employers. If a court orders payments, a parent can face stiff legal consequences for noncompliance.

Per California law, unpaid court orders come with a 10% interest fee. Parents could also face the following:

  • Suspension of driver’s licenses
  • Property liens 
  • Garnished tax refunds or lottery winnings 

Step 5: Stay in touch 

Families change, and sometimes, the child support payments adjust accordingly. 

Child support payments could change due to the following:

  • A child's movement from daycare to elementary school
  • A child's illness that requires big insurance payments
  • A parent's unemployment
  • A parent's incarceration 

Either parent can visit the California Child Support Services agency and ask to modify the agreement. Changing the order can take time, but it's better to work through the process than skip payments.

Step 6: Close the case

When a child reaches age 18 and is not a full-time high school student, payments can stop. But one parent can't be behind on the fees. When this happens, the case is closed. Records are maintained, but the agency has no work left to do.



It's Getting More Expensive to Raise Children. And the Government Isn't Doing Much to Help. (August 2022). Brookings. 
How a Child Support Case Works. California Child Support Services.