Federal VS MN State VS MN County: Government’s Role in Child Support Matters

Child Support

Federal Government

Minnesota Statutes have long provided for child support orders in cases where parents separate, divorce, or have never married. In 1975, the federal government also became involved in this issue. Congress enacted laws aimed at establishing uniformity and setting minimum standards in state child support enforcement systems. The goal was to reduce the demand for public assistance by more effectively enforcing child support orders. The federal government began providing funding to states with child support systems that met federal requirements.

Currently, the federal government contributes about 74 percent of the state’s total child support enforcement funding. Most of that contribution is funded through Federal Financial Participation (FFP), provided at a flat rate of 66 percent of state and county spending. The rest comes from financial incentives paid to the state and distributed to counties for paternity adjudication, establishment of support, child support enforcement, collections for both current support and arrears, and cost effectiveness. The state bears about 8 percent of the total cost and Minnesota’s counties shoulder the remaining 18 percent. Over the years, to qualify for federal child support enforcement funding, as well as public assistance funding (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families), Congress has required states to enact various kinds of legislation on child support. States also must comply with a variety of federal regulations related to funding.

State Government


The legislature sets child support policy in Minnesota. State policy is greatly influenced by the federal requirements that are prerequisites to receiving federal welfare and child support funds. However, the federal requirements are often general in nature, leaving the details up to the legislature.

Department of Human Services

The Department of Human Services (DHS) is the primary executive branch agency responsible for overseeing Minnesota’s child support system, which is administered by county child support offices. The state agency:

  • runs the statewide computer system and maintains statewide data on child support;
  • provides training and assistance to the counties;
  • operates Minnesota’s centralized child support payment center;
  • manages and disburses federal and state child support funding;
  • maintains and manages administrative enforcement tools; and
  • provides overall guidance for Minnesota’s child support system.


Counties do a lot of the hands-on work in Minnesota’s child support system. Counties deal directly with the families involved. Child support services are typically located within the county human or social services department. The caseworkers are called child support officers or child support workers. They work closely with the county attorney, who provides legal advice and represents the county (not the child or parents) in child support actions.

Public Authority

Minnesota’s child support statutes refer to the “public authority.” The public authority means the local unit of government, acting on behalf of the state, that is responsible for child support enforcement. The public authority can be either DHS or the county child support office.

Judicial Branch

The judicial branch interprets and applies the child support laws in individual cases. There are a few different types of decision makers who preside over child support matters. The first is a district court judge—a regular judge having authority over all matters in district court. Second, Hennepin and Ramsey counties utilize family court referees—similar to district court judges, but with jurisdiction limited to family law. And third, there are child support magistrates who hear only child support matters. Minn. Stat. §§ 484.64; 484.65; 484.702.

When does the county become involved in Minnesota child support matters?

The county is not a party in all child support cases. Many child support obligations are set and paid without county involvement. There are two ways the county gets involved. First, an obligee who receives public assistance must assign to the county the right to receive child support. Public assistance recipients, as a condition of continued eligibility for public assistance, must cooperate in establishing paternity and enforcing child support. Recipients may be exempted from this requirement if they can show good cause, such as a likelihood of physical or emotional harm. Minn. Stat. § 256.741.

The second way the county gets involved is if the obligor or obligee applies for child support enforcement services. Any obligee or obligor who does not receive public assistance can obtain the county’s services in establishing parentage, locating parents, and establishing and enforcing child support orders by completing an application and paying the application fee.

This post is part of a series of posts on Child Support Laws in Minnesota.

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