Is filing for child support safe?

If your child's other parent is dangerous and has abused you or your child, you may want to think carefully about filing for child support.

Filing a child support case could give the other parent a chance to see you in the court room or follow you home from the courthouse. Filing for child support might make him angry. He may be more likely to threaten you or hurt you.

If the other parent is angry about paying child support, he might ask the court for custody, or the right to visit your child, or to make decisions about your child's life, The other parent always has the right to ask the court for custody or parenting time or visitation, but not all parents are interested in their child. Sometimes parents only ask the court for custody or parenting time or visitation when they have to go to court for child support. If the other parent gets an order from the court saying that he can visit your child, it might be hard for you to avoid him.

If you do file for child support, there are some things you can do to try to stay safe:

  • You can file a Motion to Impound your address. This asks the court to keep your address secret from the other parent so he cannot find out where you live by reading the court papers.
  • If you are working with the Department of Revenue (DOR), legal services, or a private lawyer, tell them about the abuse right away so they can help you stay safe. Tell them if you need your address kept secret from the other parent.
  • For information about safe ways of setting up visits between your child and the other parent, see Parenting Time and Visitation and Can visitation or parenting time be safe?

Are there other reasons I might not want to file for child support?

There may be other reasons you might not want to file for child support.

If you are not married to your child's father, then legally he is not your child’s father unless

  • a court order says he is the father;  or
  • the two of you sign a "voluntary acknowledgment" form. This form says that you both agree he is the father.

If you were never married to your child’s father, he does not have any right to custody or parenting time or visitation unless there is a court order or signed acknowledgment form. You are the only parent with custody if there is no court order or signed acknowledgment form. You have the right to decide whether the father may visit with your child.

The father of your child can go to court at any time to prove that he is the father and to ask for custody or parenting time or visitation, but he might not ever do this. However, if you take him to court for child support, the court will make a “finding” that he is the father. Then, it will be easier for him to ask for custody or visits with your child. If he gets an order that says he can visit your child, you might have to be in contact with him. 

Example

This is a true story. Lisa had a very violent, abusive boyfriend, Dan, who was sentenced to three years in jail for beating her, threatening to kill her, and violating a restraining order. Lisa had Dan's baby while Dan was in jail. Dan never met the baby. There was never any order from court that said Dan was the father. Since he wasn't legally the father, he had no right to visit the baby, and he did not have to pay child support.  He seemed to have no interest in the baby, and he left Lisa alone.

Lisa applied for TAFDC. She did not know about the "domestic violence waiver." Six months after Dan got out of jail, DOR filed a child support case. In order to get child support, DOR had to get a court order saying that Dan was the baby's father. In the court room, after the judge declared that Dan was the father and ordered support, Dan turned to Lisa and yelled, "I want visits now. I want to see my kid next Saturday."

Now it is easier for Dan to go to court and ask for visits because the court says he is the baby's father. If he does ask for visits, and Lisa is concerned about the safety of the baby, Lisa can ask the court to order that Dan may only visit in a place where he will be supervised. But, the judge may let Dan visit without supervision. Either way, Dan will have contact with Lisa through their child.

While Dan always had the right to go to court and ask to be declared the father and ask for visits, he might never have done so if DOR had not filed a child support case. And, Lisa could have avoided having a case filed by DOR if she had known about the "domestic violence waiver."

It may be worth it to get a child support order. All parents should support their children. If you believe that asking for child support is dangerous, you might be better off not asking for it. Child support might not be worth risking your health and safety, or the health and safety of your child. Talk to a legal advocate about your options. Call your local legal services office to see if you qualify for free legal advice. Or call a lawyer referral service to try to find a lawyer who will work with you at a price you can afford.

Could it be helpful for me to get a court order that says who my child's father is?

Getting a court to name the father of your child is called "establishing paternity." Some reasons that you might want to do this are:

  • If your child's father dies or becomes disabled, it will be easier for you to collect Social Security benefits for your child.
  • If your child's father dies, your child will be able to inherit from him or his family. It is much more difficult to prove who the father of a child is after the father has died.
  • You may be able to get a more complete medical history for your child.

But be careful. “Establishing paternity” may make it easier for your child's father to ask the court for custody or visits with your child.

Produced by an AmeriCorps Project of Western Massachusetts Legal Services; updated and revised by Jeff Wolf, Massachusetts Law Reform Institute
Last Updated August 2015

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