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Legal Information: District of Columbia

District of Columbia Child Support

Laws current as of
April 5, 2024

Information about child support in D.C.

What is child support?

Child support is support paid by one parent to another parent or person caring for the child.1 A child support order may include an order for financial support but could also include other assistance such as paying medical expenses or providing health insurance for the child.2

1 D.C. Code § 16–916
2 D.C. Code § 46-205(5), (6)

Who can file for child support?

You can seek child support if the child is living with you most of the time. Both parents have a legal obligation to support their child.1 If you share custody with the other parent, you can still request child support. If you and the other parent both have the child in your care an equal amount of time, a judge may still issue a child support order. In some shared physical custody situations, the parent who earns more money may have to pay child support to the other parent.2

1 D.C. Code § 16–901(8); D.C. Child Support Services Division website
2 D.C. Code § 16-916.01(q)(1), (q)(2)

How do I file for child support?

You can file a “Petition to Establish Paternity and/or for Child Support” with the Central Intake Center at the Superior Court for the District of Columbia.1 You also have the option of requesting that the Child Support Services Division assist you with starting a case. The Child Support Services Division can help with a child support case by:

  • establishing paternity;
  • filing a petition for a child support court order; and
  • collecting child support payment.2

You can start an application by going to the Child Support Services Division website.

1 D.C. Courts website
2 D.C. Child Support Services Division website

Is child support retroactive in D.C.?

When you file for child support, the judicial officer can order retroactive child support to cover the prior 24 months before you filed the petition.  The judge can order retroactive support for a longer period if the parent who owes support acted “in bad faith” or if there are other extraordinary circumstances.1

1 D.C. Code § 16–916.01(v)(1)

How can I get child support if I don’t know where the other parent is?

If you do not know where the other parent is who should be paying child support, the Office of the Attorney General Child Support Services Division will use various methods to try to find that person. CSSD has the right to search for parents by using resources such as:

  • Department of Motor Vehicles records;
  • tax records;
  • employment records; and
  • public benefits records.1

If a parent who is responsible for paying support cannot be located in the District of Columbia, the Child Support Services Division will use other resources, including the Federal Parent Locator Service2, to try to find the person and proceed with the child support case.1

1  D.C. Child Support Services Division website
2 D.C. Code § 46-224.02

How will a judge decide a child support award? How much child support can I get?

Child support payments are calculated according to the District of Columbia Child Support Guidelines, available on the D.C. Child Support Services Division website. The law includes certain factors that a judge must consider in the calculation, including the:

  • gross income of both parents;
  • amount of any court-ordered child support paid by either parent for another child;
  • cost of the child’s health insurance and extraordinary medical expenses;
  • cost of reasonable childcare expenses for the child;
  • number of children in the child support case;
  • number of other biological or adopted children living in each parent’s home; and
  • amount of time the child spends with each parent.1

A judge must also consider a parent’s ability to provide for his/her own financial support. If a parent with a legal duty to pay support does not have enough income to also support himself/herself, then the judge will decide what is the reasonable amount of child support that parent can pay.2 The judge will assume that the parent with limited income can pay $75 a month towards child support, but that amount can change if either parent convinces the judge otherwise.3

For more information on how to get your child support order enforced once you have an order in place, you can go to the D.C. Child Support Services Division website.

1 D.C. Code § 16–916.01
2 D.C. Code § 16–916.01(g)(2)
3 D.C. Code § 16–916.01(g)(3)(A)

How will court-ordered child support be paid?

Generally, when the parent who has to pay child support is employed, the court will order that child support be taken from his/her paycheck. This is called “wage withholding,” also known as income withholding1. Even if wage withholding is not possible or has not started yet, that parent is still responsible for making the payments. S/he may pay by:

  • sending a check or money order by mail;
  • using a credit card online or by telephone; or
  • bringing cash to one of the stores that participate in the “Pay Near Me” project of the DC Child Support Clearinghouse.2

If you are owed child support, you may access these funds through the DC Child Support Clearinghouse or have them sent out to you.3 If you need more information on how the payments are made or how you can get the money, you can visit the D.C. Child Support Services Division website.

1 D.C. Code § 46-207
2 D.C. Child Support Services Division website
3 D.C. Courts website

What can I do if the other parent is not paying the ordered child support?

If the other parent violates the order, you or the Child Support Services Division can file a motion for contempt of child support order in court. When the non-custodial parent doesn’t obey the instructions in the court order, the court can order him/her to follow it. The other parent can be held in civil contempt if there is an active child support order and you have not received a voluntary child support payment within 60 days. Voluntary payments are payments made by the non-custodial party or his/her employer.

As part of civil contempt, the court can order the non-custodial parent to:

  • pay a lump sum amount;
  • make scheduled payments; or
  • be incarcerated.1

On the other hand, your case could be eligible for criminal contempt if:

  • the non-custodial parent deliberately disobeys the court order;
  • all other administrative enforcement actions aren’t successful;
  • s/he has not made significant voluntary support payments within three months before the criminal contempt referral date; and
  • there is a good faith belief that s/he can pay child support.1

As part of criminal contempt, the court could order any of the following when a party has deliberately disobeyed a support order:

  • a jail term of up to 180 days;
  • participation in a rehabilitative program;
  • acceptance of appropriate and available employment or participation in job search and placement activities;
  • probation; or 
  • any other action the judge decides.2

1 D.C. Child Support Services Division website
2 D.C. Code § 46-225.02

Can a child support order be changed?

If your case is being handled by the Child Support Services Division, every three years either parent can request that the Child Support Services Division schedule a hearing to have the child support order reviewed and changed. Both parents will be asked to provide evidence of their current income, childcare expenses, medical expenses, and insurance costs. The Child Support Services Division will calculate the child support amount under the guidelines. If the amount is different from the original order by 15% or more, the Division or either parent can file a motion to modify the child support order.1

A parent also has the option to file a motion to modify the child support order any time there has been a substantial and material change of circumstances. This motion can be filed even if three years has not passed. A change in circumstances could include things like a change in the parent’s ability to pay support or the financial needs of the child have changed.2

1 D.C. Code § 16–916.01(r)(2); D.C. Child Support Services Division website
2 D.C. Code § 16–916.01(r)(8); D.C. Child Support Services Division website