Child Support While on Public Assistance (Title IV-D)

Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF, pronounced tan-ef) is a type of public assistance intended to reach children in low-income U.S. households. It draws from federal and state funds.

While a parent works or searches for a job, TANF supplements their income by several hundred dollars per month for up to five years.

Under federal guidelines, each state creates its own public assistance program to distribute TANF funds. For example, if you receive funds from CalWORKs in California, Family Assistance in New York or TCA or TDF in Florida, you're on TANF.

When the government is paying (or has paid) public assistance to a parent, it will try to recover the funds. That's why state agencies collect child support payments; they may keep a large part of those funds instead of sending them to a parent who already gets TANF.

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What is TANF child support (Title IV-D child support)?

The Social Security Act contains a federal law called Title IV, Part D (nicknamed IV-D, pronounced four-dee). It says every state must have a way to order, collect and enforce child support — allowing the government to choose what to do with the support payments.

If you're on public assistance (especially TANF) or if your support order is managed by a state agency, your support order is likely considered IV-D, meaning the government is involved in collecting and enforcing payments.

You may hear this arrangement referred to as TANF child support or Title IV-D child support.

What is non-TANF child support (non-IV-D child support)?

If neither parent has a history of receiving public assistance or state social services, the support ordered by the family court judge may be non-IV-D (also called non-TANF) — meaning the state won't enforce payments. When one of you sends money (even if through your state's payment system), the other keeps the full amount, and if you have difficulty or argue, it's up to you to return to mediation or court.

How does TANF work with child support?

When you apply for TANF:

  • If you already have a child support order, the support you receive will be considered as income unless your state has a disregard policy to ignore it. It may affect your eligibility for TANF.
  • If you don't have a support order but you're separated from your child's other parent, your state's support office will open a support case for you. It doesn't matter whether you want this; the federal government requires it.

If applicable, your support case will begin with an attempt to find the other parent or establish their parenthood. Before ordering them to pay support, the law must recognize them as a parent.

The parent who pays child support sends money to the state agency. The state:

  1. Allows the parent who's owed support to keep a small part of each payment as a pass-through. It's usually about $50.
  2. Uses the remainder of the support to reimburse the government for the TANF
  3. Sends any support amount exceeding the TANF to the parent who's owed support

As an illustration, here are two possible outcomes for a custodial parent receiving $200 in TANF:

  • If the noncustodial parent sends $150 in support, the custodial parent receives $50 while the government keeps $100.
  • If the noncustodial parent sends $350 in support, the custodial parent receives $150 while the government keeps $200.

Learn more about child support

For federal law, see the Office of Child Support Enforcement.

For practical information about child support in your state, see our location-based child support calculators and guides.

If you're not sure who the biological father is, learn about court-ordered paternity tests.

Consider your options if you can't afford child support.

Keeping track of payments and expenses

Whether you're paying or receiving child support, the Custody X Change app can help you keep track of payments and child-related expenses.

Log details of both into your parenting expense tracker, in case you ever need to go — or return — to court. You can upload attachments, add notes and print reports for a judge or the other parent.

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