Child Support Laws in Washington, DC

By Tom Streissguth

In the District of Columbia, child support laws are enforced by the Child Support Services division of the Office of Attorney General. As in the 50 states, the District sets general guidelines for child support payments from a noncustodial to a custodial parent. Child support orders are a common feature of final divorce decrees, which may take into account support payments already made by the noncustodial parent while the divorce was pending.

Child Support Guidelines

The District of Columbia has established guidelines for the amount of child support to be ordered from a noncustodial parent. These guidelines consider several factors: the income of each parent, whether one spouse is requesting alimony, the costs of health insurance and medical expenses, the receipt of any Social Security or veteran's benefits, and the receipt of any workers' compensation by either parent. Other factors include income from trusts or estates and gambling or lottery winnings, the presence of other children in either household whom either parent is legally obligated to support, and the payment of child support by one of the parents in another divorce case.

Child Support Calculation

The District of Columbia furnishes an online calculator that returns an estimated amount of child support when a user inputs the relevant data. The court, however, is free to determine child support based on the circumstances of each case and is not strictly bound by the guidelines. Before using the calculator, gather any documentation of income, expenses, insurance costs, public benefits such as Social Security disability, previous divorce decrees, and IRS forms such as W-2s and tax returns.

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Hearings and Decrees

In any divorce action that involves minor children, the court will set a hearing on child support. The judge will review the calculation of child support according to the petition for divorce. The parents may testify to their financial and living circumstances and request a revision of the child support order according to any changes in their situation, or any error in the calculation. The court will issue a child support order in the final decree. The noncustodial parent will then make child support payments through District of Columbia Child Support Services, the agency responsible for processing the payments to the custodial parent.

Payments and Enforcement

Child support payments in the District of Columbia can be made by check, money order or online through an electronic debit from a bank account. The DCCS processes the payment and makes a direct transfer to the custodial parent's bank account, or to a debit card. If necessary, DCCS may also enforce the child support order through a variety of actions. These include a withholding order (garnishment) from the noncustodial parent's regular pay, diversion of federal and DC income tax refunds, suspension of a driver's license or passport, and criminal proceedings against the nonpaying parent.

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