Does Getting Food Stamps Automatically Place the Father on Child Support?

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Enrolling in the SNAP (or food stamps) program doesn't automatically force the father to pay child support in most states. In a handful of other states, it is a requirement that recipients of SNAP participate in a federally supervised, state-administered child-support-enforcement program.

When you apply for food stamps, officially known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program or SNAP, you'll be asked about your finances. This includes whether the father of any children you might have is providing financial support.

In most states, enrolling in SNAP won't automatically obligate him to pay child support if he's not providing assistance, but it will lead to a child support case being opened by your local child support enforcement agency. In a handful of other states, it's a requirement that recipients of SNAP participate in a federally supervised, state-administered child-support enforcement program. You'll be expected to help them locate your child's father and establish a support order as a condition of receiving food assistance.

TL;DR (Too Long; Didn't Read)

Enrolling in SNAP won't automatically obligate a parent to pay child support, but it will begin a process toward securing an order for support.

Child Support Established by Court Order

Parents are required to support the children they bring into the world. Typically, the parent who does not provide a home for the child, known as the noncustodial parent, pays child support to the one who does.

If you have custody of your children and their other parent is not financially contributing to their upbringing, you can take her to court to establish a child support order. If you're divorcing their other parent, the court will establish a support order during the proceedings and include the terms in your divorce decree.

Receiving Food Stamps

The food assistance program will likely require you to cooperate with the local child support enforcement agency to track down your child's other parent if you apply for good stamps and a child support order is not already in place. You'll have to help establish a support order as a condition of receiving benefits. States prefer that children receive child support rather than public assistance.

You could be denied food stamps or removed from the program if you're already enrolled if you don't cooperate, especially without a legitimate reason. This requirement can be waived if you're a victim of domestic violence, however.

Child Support After Establishing Paternity

The exact procedure can vary in different states, but the local child support enforcement agency will typically open a child support case on your child's behalf. The first step in establishing a support order is determining paternity.

You'll be asked to identify your child's father, the state and city where he lives and works, and to provide his Social Security number if you know it. You also will be expected to appear in court and testify at any necessary court proceedings. A child support order is created after the paternity of your child is established, either through the father's admission or by court order after genetic testing.

The amount of benefits paid by the state may be reduced accordingly after support payments are being received.

TANF Benefits Can Affect Child Support

If you also enroll in Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF), a national program that provides temporary cash assistance to families with dependent children, you most likely will not receive all of your child support payments. Your right to child support is temporarily assigned to the state, which receives the support instead.

This only lasts while you're receiving TANF benefits, however. The funds are used to reimburse the state for the cash benefits provided to you while you're enrolled. Depending on your state's policy, you might be entitled to the first $50 of child support collected each month and any money left over after the state is reimbursed.

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About the Author

Based on the West Coast, Mary Jane Freeman has been writing professionally since 1994, specializing in the topics of business and law. Freeman's work has appeared in a variety of publications, including LegalZoom, Essence, Reuters and Chicago Sun-Times. Freeman holds a Master of Science in public policy and management and Juris Doctor. Freeman is self-employed and works as a policy analyst and legal consultant.