How to Find Out If You Owe Back Child Support

By Fraser Sherman - Updated June 09, 2017
the parent holds the hand of a small child

In the 21st century it's very unlikely you owe child support and don't know it. Federal and state governments use a variety of methods to track and locate noncustodial parents, and they're very good at it. If you have somehow slipped through the cracks, simply checking with the appropriate state government should provide the answers.

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State And Government Databases

When a child is born, state governments record both parents' Social Security numbers in a database. If one parent ups and leaves, even to another state, the odds are she'll be found again. Employers across the country report new employees to their state's child-support enforcement agency. Those agencies then correlate the names and numbers with a central national database.

Even if you don't know you're a parent, the chance is very high that you'll find out once the government locates you. States and the federal government work together so that child-support enforcement efforts can cross state boundaries. When they find a missing parent, they can take steps to collect, for example by garnishing wages or seizing an income-tax refund.

Even if you've moved out of the country, many nations work with the U.S. to collect child-support debts. American companies operating abroad may also be involved, if you're working as an employee. However there's a higher chance of you dropping off the radar overseas, particularly if the custodial parent doesn't know where you are. The more information he has about your location, the easier it is for the government to find you. The less data, the harder.

Finding Out Yourself

If you haven't been notified about child support but you want to double check, it may turn out to be simple. Here are steps you can take if you know where the custodial parent lives:

  • Go to the state's child-support enforcement website. Some states, and also some local governments, post photographs of deadbeats online.
  • Go online to the county courthouse. Using your name or the other parent's name, see if there's been any child-support actions filed.
  • See if the state department governing child support has the information online. New York state, for example, allows noncustodial parents to check the balance of their debt through the state's website.

Locating the Parent

If you don't know which state to search, you can try to locate the other parent. Reach out to friends or family and for contact information. You can also use any of the many online services, some of them free, that reveal personal information about an individual. Even using Google might be sufficient to find him.

Dealing With the Debt

If your child support payments have been accumulating for a while, you may have a lot debt to pay off. The government can freeze your bank account or seize real estate you own to settle the arrears. Even bankruptcy won't wipe out child-support debts, though by erasing other debts it can make paying support easier. If you genuinely want to support your child, the best thing you can do is pay off the debt while keeping up current payments.

About the Author

A Durham, NC resident, Fraser has written about law, starting a business, balancing your budget and fighting evictions, among other legal and financial topics.

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