DCSE vs. Court Order: How Should I Obtain Child Support?

Patricia TichenorLegal

family meeting with attorney to obtain child support

Whether you’re going through a divorce or are unmarried and simply need to set fair terms with your child’s other natural (or adoptive) parent, you may find you need to establish an order of child support. To obtain child support in Virginia, you can either apply through the Commonwealth’s Department of Social Services, Division of Child Support Enforcement (DCSE), or by opening up a case directly with your local court.

Here’s what you need to know about both routes so you can better understand which is the right choice for you and your family’s situation.

Child support basics

An order of child support ensures that a custodial parent receives sufficient monetary support from their child’s noncustodial parent to provide for that child’s basic needs. For instance, if a mother gains custody of her children in a divorce, the father will be obligated to pay a predetermined amount each month for her to care for the children.

Child support payments are typically used for necessities like food, shelter, clothing, education, healthcare, child care, etc. The minimum payment required in Virginia is $68 per month, but the actual amount is typically determined by using the Code of Virginia Child Support Guidelines. Considerations include both parents’ income, any existing or pending custody arrangements with child, and the child’s necessary living expenses. The court may also consider things like the child’s age, any special needs they may have, and other familial circumstances.

Parents who are filing for an uncontested divorce may be able to reach an agreement on their Child Support Order (CSO) themselves, without a judge’s input. For instance, parents may independently agree to split expenses like their child’s competitive sports fees or extracurricular activities, which a court wouldn’t typically account for. However, to ensure the child’s best interests, the court will often calculate a presumptive amount to ensure that the parents’ mutually-agreed child support arrangements meet Virginia guidelines.

DCSE child support vs. court-ordered child support

When seeking a CSO, you’ll want to consider which option makes the most sense for your circumstances.

DCSE Adminstrative Determinations of child support

If you apply for an administrative determination of child support through the DCSE and its findings remain uncontested by the paying parent, this state agency will collect the money from the noncustodial parent and transfer it to the custodial parent.

One major advantage of DCSE child support is that the agency strictly enforces payments and will take measures to collect the money owed through wage garnishment, property liens, etc. When these methods are unsuccessful, however, the DCSE can also refer cases for court action. Examples include cases involving parents who are minors themselves, or past-due support of over 90 days and at least $500.

To apply for support, you’ll submit an application to the DCSE, and they will issue an Administrative Support Order (ASO) to serve to the noncustodial parent. The parent will then have 10 days to object and request a hearing date. Assuming there is no objection, the ASO will be deemed valid and treated like a court-ordered CSO.

Court-ordered support

If you petition for and obtain a CSO in court, the noncustodial parent pays the custodial parent directly. To receive court-ordered child support, you can do so through an independent petition in J&DR Court, or in Circuit Court, if you are currently married and seeking a divorce from your child’s other parent.

The Juvenile and Domestic Relations District Courts of Virginia handle issues like custody, support, and visitation, and each is treated as a separate case. Virginia’s Circuit Courts, on the other hand, allow divorce complaints to address these matters under a single case number. Obtaining child support through the court is often easier and preferable for parents who are seeking a divorce, as all issues can be settled at once (as opposed to applying through the DCSE separately).

A court-issued CSO is a legal obligation to pay child support, but in the case of nonpayment, the proper paperwork must be filed to enforce it. If payments are not being made, you’ll have to file a Motion and Notice for Judgment for Arrearages, and the court will then calculate past-due payments and provide an additional monthly payment on top of the original obligation. 

The court can also award attorney’s fees and impose jail time and require the payment of all or some of the past-due child support as a form of a bond in order for the delinquent parent to be released from jail.

Need to obtain child support in Virginia? MLCC can help

If you’re considering filing for support in court, or if you simply need help with your DIY legal case, consider scheduling a free, 15-minute consultation call with My Legal Case Coach.

During your call, you’ll speak with a licensed Virginia attorney who can point you to the appropriate case form packet for your needs. With your purchase, you will receive one free hour of 1:1 coaching to help you prepare your case.

We can also help you determine whether your case would be deemed an emergency by the Court, and if so, assist you in completing an Emergency Pleading to obtain relief quickly.