Glossary of Terms

Child support enforcement can sometimes be complex, and that problem isn’t helped by all of the confusing terminology. Fortunately, Support Collectors has developed a glossary of commonly used child support enforcement terms to help you navigate through the process and issues.

Glossary of Terms

Different states use different terminology, and many of the words and terms in our glossary have more than one definition.  If you can’t find the answer you’re looking for here, check out our Frequently Asked Questions page or call one of our Customer Service Representatives.  We’re here to help!

abandonment
When one spouse leaves the marital home without consent, it is called abandonment, and is grounds for divorce in some states.
absent parent
The parent who does not live with or have custodial rights to the child, but is still responsible for helping pay for living expenses for the child. Usually referred to as the non-custodial parent.
adversarial divorce
A divorce in which spouses are unable to come to agreement
affidavit
A written statement of facts made voluntarily under oath, witnessed and signed by a notary public or another official authorized to administer oaths
alimony
Court-ordered spousal payments that is separate and apart from child payments. It may be paid in one lump sum or in installments. It can be temporary or permanent.
alimony pendente
A pretrial order for spousal Support. Also known as Temporary Support.
arrearage
The amount of past-due, court-ordered child Support owed by the non-custodial parent. If a spouse does not pay the full amount of court-ordered Support, or does not make payments as ordered, the amounts not paid are arrearages. Interest and penalties charged on past-due amounts become part of the arrearage.
assets
Cash, property, investments, and anything else of value to an individual or business are considered assets.
bankruptcy
A legal proceeding in which a person requests the federal bankruptcy court to determine that person's debts and assets that may be used to pay those debts. Some forms of bankruptcy discharge all consumer or "unsecured" debts if there are no assets to distribute to the creditors; however, child Support and spousal supoort obligations cannot be discharged in bankruptcy.
blood test
Blood is drawn from a child and its parents and tested to determine biological parentage. It involves genetic DNA testing.
burden of proof
One spouse must prove any claims made against the opposing spouse to the court. The claims must be supported with sufficient evidence.
child custody
Living arrangements and legal decision-making responsibilities concerning the child (See child support law summary for your state)
child support
The money the non-custodial parent pays to the custodial parent to help pay for the support of the child
child support guidelines
The standard amount of support to be paid, established by the state legislature. A mathematical formula is used to calculate the proper amount of child support (See child support law summary for your state)
civil court
The court which presides over non-criminal cases
cohabitation
Two people living together outside of marriage. This can be grounds for termination of support in some states. (See your state section of divorce laws)
common-law marriage
A marriage in which no formal ceremony took place and no license exists
constructive abandonment
Refusal of one spouse to engage in sexual relations with the other spouse. In some states this is considered grounds for divorce if it lasts for a certain length of time.
contempt of court
Any deliberate failure to comply with the legal process, including the disruption of the court and proceedings. In child support cases, contempt is disobedience of a court order to pay child support. If a non-custodial parent is found in contempt for non-payment of support, they may end up in jail.
custodial parent (CP)
The parent a child lives with, who makes legal decisions concerning the child, and who is entitled to receive child support for the non-custodial parent. Several different types of custody arrangements are available, see child support law summary for your state.
custody
The legal right and responsibility to raise a minor child and to make decisions in their interest
deadbeat dad
This term is oftentimes used to describe fathers who do not support their children financially by not paying child support. We feel this term is not fair to the huge majority of dads who faithfully support their children both emotionally and financially. Further, there are cases where these so called "deadbeat dads" truly want to support their children but are not able to at the present time due to being unemployed, incarcerated, injured or sick. We feel that "non-custodial parent" or "absent parent" is a more appropriate term than deadbeat dad or deadbeat mom. That having been said, dads or moms who willingly choose to not support their children, even though they have the means to, is a deplorable act and these people, male or female, should be pursued and made to pay.
default order or judgement
Order or judgment made based only on the plaintiff's complaint, due to no response or appearance of the defendant
desertion
When a spouse leaves the marital home for more than a year, without prior agreement between the spouses, without paying support, and not as a result of actions of remaining spouse. Desertion is one of several grounds for a fault divorce in many states.
disposable income
Gross income, less deductions for taxes, insurance, and in some cases union dues. The amount of child support is often set by a percentage of the non-custodial parent's disposable income.
divorce
A final decree required to legally terminate a valid marriage
dower
A wife's common law right to inherit from her husband
emancipation
The age, typically 18 or 21, at which a minor legally becomes an adult. Emancipation can also occur if a minor marries or enters the armed forces (See child support law summary for your state)
father's rights
Legal principles and concepts supporting the idea that child custody and support decisions must not discriminate against fathers
final judgement
In some jurisdictions, when courts grant divorces, judgments do not become "final judgments" until the expiration of a statutory waiting period known as the "interlocutory" or "nisi" period. (See summary of divorce law for your state) This period begins when the interlocutory judgment or initial judgment of divorce is entered and ends upon the "final judgment" being entered. After a final judgment is entered, the marriage is legally terminated.
garnishee
Employer, bank, insurance company or other party upon whom a judgment creditor places a Writ of Garnishment, because that entity holds assets due the original debtor. For example, if a non-custodial parent (non-custodial parent) does not pay court-ordered child support, the custodial parent may garnish the wages of the non-custodial parent, and receive payments directly from the non-custodial parent's employer, who is the garnishee.
garnishment
An order sent to a person or entity (garnishee) that is giving the non-custodial parent money. Also the legal proceeding where part of a person's wages is withheld and applied to payment of a debt, such as child support.
garnishment of wages
A support enforcement process by which Support payments are automatically deducted from the non-custodial parent's paycheck and delivered to the custodial parent. This is an involuntary enforcement method of paying court-ordered Support.
good faith
Absence of intent to commit fraud
hardship
The inability of a parent to support his or her children because of financial distress
injunction
A court order preventing a specific person from doing a specific act because it is likely to cause physical, mental injury or property loss of another individual
intercept
State child Support enforcement agencies "intercept" or take portions of a non-custodial parent's unemployment insurance payments, disability insurance payments, income tax returns, and lottery winnings to pay child Support arrearages to custodial parents.
IV-D agency
A governmental agency operating at the state level authorized under the federal Social Security Act to recover delinquent child Support. For example, in Texas, the IV-D agency is the Attorney General's Office.
joint legal custody
Custody in which the parents of minor children share responsibilities and major decision-making activities related to the child. (See child custody section for your state.)
joint physical custody
Custody in which the parents of minor children share actual physical custody of the child (See child custody section for your state)
judgement
The ruling or order of the court. The judgment is the official decision regarding child Support and can be found in the divorce decree or order. (See court order page for your state)
legal custody
Authority of one parent or both parents to make legal decisions regarding health, education and welfare of the child or children
legal separation
A legal action, similar to divorce, that involves the time spouses live separately and apart prior to a divorce being granted
lien
A claim attached to a property owned by a judgment debtor. It prevents sale, transfer of title or refinancing of the property until the debt is satisfied.
longarm statute
A law which allows one state to claim personal jurisdiction over someone living in another state. It is used by a court to gain jurisdiction over an non-custodial parent who has moved to another state.
lump-sum alimony
A spousal Support that is ordered to be paid in a fixed (lump-sum) amount. The completion of the payment may be made in one total payment or installment payments.
magistrate
Person who performs the functions of a judge but does not have power to issue a court order. Judges sometimes pass work to magistrates or masters, who in turn make recommendations to the judge about case.
maintenance
Spousal Support or alimony
marital property
Property acquired by the spouses during the marriage. Typically, it does not include property owned prior to marriage.
marital settlement agreement
Written agreement entered into by both spouses in a divorce stating their rights and agreements pertaining to property, Support and custody
military allotment
Deduction from the salary of a non-custodial parent on active duty in the United States military
no-fault divorce
Divorce that may be granted even though no spouse has performed any kind of marital misconduct - there had been "no fault"
non-custodial parent
Parent who does not have primary or physical custody of their child, and who typically is paying child Support
obligation
Amount of money to be paid as Support by the non-custodial parent, and the way it is to be paid
obligee
A person to whom money or property is owed as the result of a judgment. In child Support cases, it is the person to whom Support is owed.
obligor
A person who owes money or property as the result of a judgment. In child Support cases, it is the person who owes Support.
order of protection
An order assigned by the court to prevent a spouse from doing something, typically, harassing the other spouse. If the spouse refuses to abide by the order, they may be arrested and put jail.
order to show cause
A court order requiring appearance in court, on a specific date and time, of a party to a civil action. This appearance is scheduled to explain why the court should not take a particular action in the case. For example, an Order to Show Cause can be issued to a non-custodial parent, requiring them to appear and explain why they should not be held in contempt of court for failure to obey an order to pay child Support.
parens patriae
A doctrine that-enables a state to take jurisdiction over a minor living within its border. This is the basis for determining what state will assume jurisdiction in a child custody case.
paternity
The legal, biological relationship between father and child
paternity acknowledgement
A legal document signed by both the mother and the father that has the legal effect of a court order for paternity
paternity adjudication
Legal determination of a child's father
physical custody
The parent with whom the child resides has physical custody. Depending upon arrangements, it may be joint or sole custody.
prenuptial agreement
Legal contract signed by two people before they get married. Typically, it involves limitations on a spouse's rights to property, Support and inheritance upon divorce.
primary caretaker
The parent who provides majority of the child's ongoing daily care
pro se divorce
Divorce in which each spouse represents themselves in court, without an attorney
rehabilitative alimony
Alimony intended to help the ex-spouse become financially self-sufficient
reimbursement
A fixed amount stated in a judgment that orders the defendant to pay back to the government welfare that the government paid on behalf of the child
release
A fixed amount stated in a judgment that orders the defendant to pay back to the government welfare that the government paid on behalf of the child
restraining order
Court order restricting a person's actions. They are sometimes issued by one spouse to try to deter the other spouse from committing violent acts.
separation
When spouses no longer co-habitate or live together
separation agreement
An agreement on Support, child care and property covering the period before divorce but after separation
serarate maintenance
An action filed for Support between two spouses not living together even though the spouse's are not actively seeking a divorce
service of process
The act of presenting the complaint or summons to the defendant or respondent usually done by a process server, a sheriff, a constable or by certified mail
sole custody
A form of custody in which one parent is awarded both physical and legal custody
split custody
A form of custody in which the actual time of physical custody is split between both parents, which gives both parents the right to make decisions
spousal support
Money paid from one spouse to the other in one lump sum or in installments for a period of time. There are many factors considered. (see divorce law summary for your state)
summons
A written notification to the defendant or respondent that an action has been filed against him or her
support
Payment for housing, food, clothing etc.
tax intercept
The process by which a child Support judgment debtor's federal and state income tax refunds are diverted to pay a Support arrearage
Temporary Assistance to Needy Families
Financial Support in the form of a cash grant, given to a family with children in need of financial help. The grant is offered because the head of the family or custodial parent is not employed and not receiving child Support or assistance from the non-custodial parent. Formerly called AFDC - Aid to Families with Dependents. TANF does not include Medicaid, food stamps or WIC benefits. These must be applied for separately.
temporary custody
A spouse's right to have parenting time with his or her child. It includes extended stays and overnights.
temporary order
A written decision of a court requiring that someone do something (like pay child Support) or not do something until a final order is issued
temporary restraining order
An order of the court prohibiting a party from acting-for example, threatening, harassing, or physically abusing the other spouse and/or the children; selling personal property; taking money out of accounts; denying the other spouse a motor vehicle
termination of parental rights
Sometimes referred to as relinquishment of parental rights; the court-ordered end of a parent/child relationship, often as a prelude to an adoption and sometimes ending the obligation of the non-custodial parent to pay child Support. Termination is different than relinquishment; termination is involuntary, relinquishment is voluntary.
UIFSA
Uniform Interstate Family Support Act, Uniform laws passed by each state that govern the procedures for the interstate establishment and enforcement of paternity and child Support. Replaced the old URESA laws.
uncontested divorce
A divorce proceeding in which there are no disputes
URESA
Uniform Reciprocal Enforcement of Support Act, the statute which formerly enabled one state to request assistance from another state in establishing or enforcing a child Support order against a parent located in the other state. Now governed by UIFSA.
visitation
The right of the parent who does not have physical custody to see their child
visitation credit
A percentage applied to a child Support calculation, reflecting the amount of time a child resides with the non-custodial parent
visitation schedule
A list of dates stating times each parent may see each child
wage assignment or wage withholding
A court order requiring the employer of a non-custodial parent to deduct a specific amount of money for child Support from the wages of the non-custodial parent. Also known as garnishment.
writ of execution
A court order authorizing the seizure of assets owned by a non-custodial parent who owes past due child Support. The order usually authorizes the seizure of assets up to the total amount of past due child Support owed under the judgment. It is also know as a levy.

Our clients say...

I want to thank you for doing a job neither the local child support office nor my attorney could accomplish, not only making it possible for my children to receive child support payments on a regular basis now, but also collecting the back support owed to me from a deadbeat dad.
- Robin B., California
Collected $14,000


I am writing to personally thank you for the outstanding job you've done while working on my case. In the beginning I was skeptical of what could actually be done by you or anyone. Before contacting your agency, I had already jumped the usual hoops of going through the county and even hiring my own lawyer to get support enforced.

When I contacted your company, I had viewed it as my last option with nowhere to turn to for help that was within my means...It wasn't until the economic shift of the downsizing trend affected me and left me without a job, that I truly felt helpless. Then you stepped in, and got results within a few weeks!

I cannot thank you enough for all of your hard work, and the immediacy of getting the ball rolling in the beginning where I actually got a monthly check! As you know, recently you were able to secure a lump sum settlement resulting in a $20,000.00 check! AMAZING!
- Laura H., Indiana
Collected $20,000


I recently acquired services from Support Collectors in assisting me with collecting child support from an absent parent. Shortly after obtaining the necessary information on my behalf, Support Collectors, within weeks, were able to obtain contact with the absent parent and have payments sent to me...I just want to extend a big 'THANK YOU' to a company for a job well done-something my local office wasn't able to do.

I will certainly pass the word around to single parents in the same situation.
- Antionette M., Missouri
Collected $30,000


I supplied all the information that I had and researched all that I could to help Support Collectors in the fight to collect my child support. Every time that I emailed or called Support Collectors, I either talked to someone or my call was returned in a timely fashion.

Any person that I talked with was extremely polite and caring. During a time when a single parent is juggling life, it is so encouraging to talk with someone who understands and is actually working to help fix the problem. With the help of Support Collectors, I am reeceiving the child support ordered by the court without having to reduce myself to a beggar. My daughters now have the money they need to have a home, food, and shelter.

I an pleased and thrilled with Support Collectors. Your company is supplying a much needed service and I hope you have much success. On behalf of my daughters, thank you.
- Becky L., Michigan
Collected $26,000


Support Collectors was efficient (always returning my calls promptly), understanding, supportive, fair, and, most importantly, successful. I recommend you highly and am looking forward to continuing to work with you in the future.

Thanks, for everything.
- Julie S., Texas
Collected $20,000


I had exhausted all courts and literally hit a dead end. I was even told by the Clerk of the Court that I had no further recourse to collect support from my ex-husband, a deadbeat dad. Through your devoted efforts and your highly specialized team, payments started and are continuing.
- Sara G., Florida
Collected $20,000


Many Thanks for all your hard work and outstanding efforts in collecting over $100,000 in back maintenance and child support from my deadbeat dad ex-husband. You did what so many said could not be done and had it not been for your diligence and knowledge of family law it would not have been possible.
- Peggy K., Missouri
Collected $22,000


It took me 10 years to catch up with my husband to establish a court order for child support. Years had gone by and his debt was in the thousands. I got Human Services involved and they told me that because I was now in a different state I had to close my case and had to open my case there. Weeks after I sent the paperwork to the Child Support Enforcement office, I received a letter saying I needed to attach notarized proof of previous payements made etc, etc, etc. I was tired of going through the process of trying to get child support owed.

I found the website for Support Collectors. I figured it probably wouldn't work and a lot of paperwork would be required...Well, there was not a lot of paperwork. It was so easy, I don't know why these other agencies need so much stuff when Support Collectors took the basic information and I had payment coming in in less than 6 weeks (this includes the time that I filed). Support Collectors kept in contact with me and was able to establish a settlement in no time. I was really surprised. I would recommend this service to anyone else (man or woman). The service was excellent.
- Lee M., Alabama
Collected $26,000


I thought I would never see a dime of what was owed in back child support... After talking with a Support Collector representative, I felt more at ease and very comfortable with them handling my case...I never missed a day of work appearing in court...I have been very happy with the proceedings and the outcome of, what I thought, would never come to be. I have and continue to refer people to Support Collectors.
- Melissa M., Illinois
Collected $16,000


If you are frustrated with the county child support offices and are getting nowhere with them, I would strongly recommend contacting Support Collectors "the child support people" for assistance. You have nothing to lose and much to gain by making one phone call.
- Michelle C., Minnesota
Collected $18,000


After many years of searching through various agencies for my ex-husband, a dear friend told me about the Support Collectors web site. I logged on and requested an application, thinking to myself it won't make a difference. We hadn't found him in 19 years, they won't be able to find him either. To my surprise they did and very quickly. Support Collectors handled everything very professionally and I received my settlement of $60,000 within a few months!

I would highly recommend Support Collectors to anyone who is owed child support. Thank you Support Collectors for doing what I thought was completely hopeless.
- Terry M., Illinois
Collected $26,000


Thank you so much for your help in getting the child support payments my daughter deserves! I only wish I would not have waited so long to contact you for assistance. You succeeded when everyone else had failed.

Don't try to handle this problem on your own with the department of child support services who are drowning in a sea of paperwork, let Support Collectors take care of you personally. The best part is that you don't owe them anything until they get payments for you and believe me, it is worth every penny.
- Teresa H., Illinois
Collected $26,000


I want to thank you for the money you were able to collect for me.

Without you I would have never gotten a cent. My only regret is that I didn't get you involved sooner in my case. Thank you for all your efforts.
- Cheyenne D., California
Collected $28,000


I would like to thank you all for the quick but hard work that you have done in collecting my back child support. It is such a relief to have an end to the long, frustrating road of trying to make my child's father owe up to his responsibilities. Too often, I had to listen to his excuses when he didn't pay his monthly child support...Then the months became years. Please extend my words of encouragement to other distressed parents, there can be a light at the end of the tunnel so don't be afraid to pursue what rightfully belongs to you and your children. Again, I think you, the Support Collectors staff for putting an end to this matter.
- Novella L., Louisiana
Collected $24,000


I just wanted to tell you what a pleasant experience working with Support Collectors has been...It was such a surprise to get such a large check and it happened so quickly. It took exactly 7 days.

When I was trying to go through the county alone it just wasn't working out because they have too many cases. In the past it was always hit or miss if I would see a check. With Support Collectors working with the county I knew I was getting my check each month and could rely on that money. I would recommend Support Collectors to anyone who is struggling to collect child support.
- Patty V., Minnesota
Collected $28,000


I want to thank you for doing a job neither the local child support office nor my attorney could accomplish, not only making it possible for my children to receive child support payments on a regular basis now, but also collecting the back support owed to me from a deadbeat dad.
- Robin B., California
Collected $14,000


I am writing to personally thank you for the outstanding job you've done while working on my case. In the beginning I was skeptical of what could actually be done by you or anyone. Before contacting your agency, I had already jumped the usual hoops of going through the county and even hiring my own lawyer to get support enforced.

When I contacted your company, I had viewed it as my last option with nowhere to turn to for help that was within my means...It wasn't until the economic shift of the downsizing trend affected me and left me without a job, that I truly felt helpless. Then you stepped in, and got results within a few weeks!

I cannot thank you enough for all of your hard work, and the immediacy of getting the ball rolling in the beginning where I actually got a monthly check! As you know, recently you were able to secure a lump sum settlement resulting in a $20,000.00 check! AMAZING!
- Laura H., Indiana
Collected $20,000


I recently acquired services from Support Collectors in assisting me with collecting child support from an absent parent. Shortly after obtaining the necessary information on my behalf, Support Collectors, within weeks, were able to obtain contact with the absent parent and have payments sent to me...I just want to extend a big 'THANK YOU' to a company for a job well done-something my local office wasn't able to do.

I will certainly pass the word around to single parents in the same situation.
- Antionette M., Missouri
Collected $30,000