The Impact of Food Stamps (SNAP) on Child Support

Food stamps, or the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), are vital in supporting families with limited financial resources to meet their basic needs. 

However, the availability of food stamps can raise questions regarding its impact on child support

 In general, if the mother applies for food stamps, it will not impact the amount of child support she receives. The mother will continue to receive the full amount of her child support payment while receiving food stamps. 

However, once a mother applies for food stamps, the government will initiate procedures to secure child support payments from the father in the following situations:

  • The father has not legally acknowledged paternity,
  • There is no existing child support order, or
  • The father has fallen behind on his child support payments.

In this article, we will explore the impact of food stamps on child support and delve into the complexities surrounding this issue.

Child Support and Food Stamps: Interactions and Implications

Generally, child support and public assistance programs like food stamps are separate entities, but some potential interactions do occur. Here is how food stamps impact child support:

1. The Government Will Require the Mother to Provide Information on The Father 

States require all food stamp recipients to cooperate with child support enforcement efforts. 

If the mother applies for food stamps, she will be required to provide information about the absent father and assist in locating him, establishing paternity if necessary, and seeking child support. 

Failure to comply with these requirements can affect eligibility for food stamps, including denial of assistance under the program. (45 CFR § 264.30).

If paternity has not been established, most states will establish paternity for a mother at no cost. 

2. The Government Will Gather Information on The Father to Ensure Child Support is Being Paid

If a father is not part of the household, the state will require the custodial parent applying for SNAP benefits to cooperate with child support enforcement as a condition of receiving SNAP. 

This will involve providing information about the father to help locate him, establish paternity, or establish or enforce a child support order.

Specifically, the mother will be required to provide the following information about the father:

  • Identity: This includes the father’s full name.
  • Social Security Number: If the father has a Social Security Number, it must be provided.
  • Income Information: This includes the father’s employment status, gross income, net income, and any other sources of income like child support, alimony, unemployment benefits, etc.
  • Asset Information: This includes checking/savings account balances, investments, property, and vehicles, among other things.
  • Residency: Proof of where the father lives, which could be a rental agreement, mortgage statement, utility bill, or other similar documentation.
  • Citizenship Status: This includes information about the father’s citizenship or immigration status.

3. Applying For Food Stamps Can Result in The Government Opening a Child Support Case

Every state prefers parents receive child support instead of public assistance. Consequently, if a parent, who is not receiving child support, seeks public assistance for their child, the state typically initiates a child support case, regardless of whether the parent wants that done or not.

Compliance with these agencies and adherence to the resulting support orders become conditions of eligibility for the benefits.

To enforce this requirement, the government may request parents to transfer their right to pursue child support to the governmental agency, allowing the agency to file the case on behalf of the government. 

If the government agency is successful in the child support lawsuit, the parent may receive a portion of the child support funds, while the majority will be allocated to the government agency as reimbursement for the financial assistance provided to the child. 

Will The State Will Take Away the Mother’s Child Support Payments if She Applies For Food Stamps? 

In most cases, when a mother applies for SNAP benefits, child support payments made to her do not go to the state. The mother should continue to receive the full child support payment (less any fees the state may collect.) 

While receiving food stamps, child support payments should go directly to the mother. The payments will be counted as income when determining the family’s eligibility for SNAP benefits and the amount they can receive. Guidelines for this can be found on the USDA Food and Nutrition Services website.

Will The Government Take Child Support Payments if a Mother Receives Temporary Assistance for Need Families (TANF)?

The rules are different if a family receives cash assistance through the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program. 

When a family receives TANF benefits, the state will require the custodial parent to assign their rights to child support payments to the state. (45 CFR § 302.50).

In such cases, the state will keep a portion or all of the child support received to reimburse itself for the cost of the TANF benefits provided to the family.

Again, the specific rules can vary by state and individual circumstances, so it’s important to check with the local SNAP and TANF offices for the most accurate information. (45 CFR § 302.50).

Do Child Support Payments Affect Eligibility For Food Stamps? 

Child support payments can affect Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) eligibility.

When determining a household’s eligibility for SNAP, the household’s income and expenses are considered.

Income: A household’s Child support payments are generally considered income. If a household’s income, including child support payments, is above certain thresholds, the family may not be eligible for SNAP, or the amount of SNAP benefits the household can receive may be reduced.

Expenses: On the other hand, a household’s child support payments can be considered an expense. A family with higher expenses may be eligible for more SNAP benefits. 

In most states, legally obligated child support payments made to a non-household member can be deducted from income, potentially increasing the SNAP benefits a household is eligible to receive.

What Effect Do Child Support Payments Have on the Amount of Food Stamp (SNAP) Benefits Available?

Child support payments can also affect the benefit amount received. Since child support is considered income, it determines the household’s overall income. 

As a result, the inclusion of child support may lead to a lower benefit amount or even render the household ineligible for food stamp benefits, depending on the income thresholds set by the program.

Accurate reporting of child support payments when applying for food stamps is crucial to ensure compliance with the program’s guidelines. Failure to disclose this information can result in penalties, including loss of benefits or legal repercussions. 

Understanding the impact of a child support order on food stamp eligibility can help individuals navigate the application process more effectively.

Applying for Food Stamps When Paternity Has Not Been Established 

If you apply for food stamps and paternity has not been established, the program will not initiate a paternity action. 

However, depending on the regulations and policies of your state, the government agency responsible for administering food stamps may take steps to help establish paternity if it is necessary to determine eligibility or enforce child support obligations.

In most states, as part of the application process for public assistance programs like food stamps, the agency will require individuals to cooperate with efforts to establish paternity. 

This will involve providing information about the child’s alleged father or participating in genetic testing to determine paternity. By establishing paternity, the state aims to identify the responsible parent and ensure that child support obligations can be enforced if.


Q. Can food stamps completely replace a noncustodial father’s child support obligations?

No, food stamps cannot completely replace child support obligations. They primarily assist with nutritional needs but do not cover other expenses associated with raising a child.

Q. Do parents receiving food stamps need to report changes in their income?

Yes, it is essential for noncustodial parents receiving food stamps to report any changes in their income accurately to ensure a fair assessment of child support obligations.

Q: Are food stamps available to noncustodial parents with visitation rights?

Eligibility for food stamps is primarily based on income and household size. Noncustodial parents, regardless of visitation rights, may be eligible if they meet the income requirements set by the program.


Food stamps have a complex relationship with a noncustodial father’s obligation to pay child support. While they can provide much-needed support for basic nutritional needs, their interaction with child support calculations can present challenges and variations depending on state regulations. 

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Tim McDuffey is a practicing attorney in the State of Missouri. Tim is a licensed member of the Missouri Bar and Missouri Bar Association.

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