Apples and Oranges: CSE in Different States Just Doesn’t Compare

Anyone who has to deal with Child Support Enforcement (CSE) knows that they can be a huge pain to deal with, with unclear policies, toothless enforcement, and poor communication – and that’s just in your home state, dealing with your case. On a national scale, the child support system in the United States is even messier and more confusing. 

When states wrote their child support guidelines decades ago, they did it completely independent of each other. 50 states writing guidelines around child support obligations and enforcement led to 50 very different child support systems. They came up with different ways of calculating support, different enforcement methods, and even different department names. It’s confusing enough to learn and understand how it works in one state, let alone learning it all over again if you move or you have to deal with interstate child support because your ex moved.

Varying Guidelines

Comparing child support guidelines from one state to another can feel like comparing apples and oranges, especially when very different departments can handle child support. In Georgia, it’s handled by the DHS, the Department of Human Services, in California, Child Support Services handles it. In Texas, the Office of the Attorney General is in charge of child support. It can be confusing just to find the department you are looking for in a new state.


States are split almost down the middle on whether to charge interest on arrears or not and finding two states that charge the same interest is a rarity. The amount can vary anywhere from 2% in Oklahoma to 12% in Colorado, assuming it’s based on a percentage. States can also base their rates on changing economic factors. Nevada establishes their rates off large, local banks while South Dakota gets their rate from the Wall Street Journal. Some states will charge interest every month, like Massachusetts, while others do it annually, like Colorado. 

Just because a state charges interest now doesn’t mean they always will. Illinois stopped charging interest on arrears and even threw out interest already owed to moms. Other states have been reducing interest rates, like New Mexico, which has dropped their interest rate from 15% to 4% in recent years. Why are states eliminating interest? If you were to ask them, we are pretty sure they would say something about it being better for families in some odd way. We are certain that it’s not better for women and children. We would guess that there has been increasing demand from FRG’s to decrease and eliminate interest on outstanding money owed, and the cherry on top would lend itself to CSE arrearage numbers appearing smaller on annual public reports…but those are stories for another day. 

When Child Support Ends

As your children grow up, states can differ on when child support ends. In Florida, child support ends when they turn 18, 19 in Alabama, or 21 like in New York. Some states like Missouri end at 18 but can extend past that if the child is attending college. If your children have special needs, states can consider this as well. 

How Long You Have to Collect Arrears

The amount of time you have to collect differs too. Your state may have a statute of limitations on arrears, putting an expiration date on them. Some states like California have no statute of limitations on arrears. In contrast, other states only give you a couple of years after your child reaches the majority’s age to collect arrears. These limitations can usually be extended if you have taken the extra step of obtaining a judgment.

Few Guidelines

There is very little federal oversight into child support enforcement. The Child Support Enforcement Amendments (CSEA), which established guidelines for handling child support cases, wasn’t established until 1984. And even then, these guidelines don’t create uniformity across states. Their purpose is to encourage states to meet criteria for establishing orders, collections and running the department cost-efficiently to receive federal incentives. Child support is rarely a federal issue, even for interstate cases and despite the Deadbeat Parents Punishment Act. The two states are expected to communicate and enforce the order together.

Confusion for You

This lack of uniformity is fine for obligees who never leave their home state. However, if you do move, this lack of uniformity is a massive headache adding layers upon layers and even more layers of enforcement details to unpack. It’s no wonder that a child support evader can move across the country or even around the corner and throw CSE off of their scent, making it extremely difficult for them to help you to get paid. 

No one seems interested in creating a more uniform system, even with nearly a million known interstate cases on the CSE books alone. People have to move for so many reasons, and having 50 unique child support systems within one country is a headache for everyone and seems nonsensical. There is a reason that the IRS does not do it this way, and that’s because it can’t be done efficiently. 

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