Many domestic violence survivors are forced to leave their homes with just a few belongings in order to escape an abuser and find safety for themselves and their children. This often results in a survivor being financially vulnerable and having to rely on public benefits to regain stability.
Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) is cash assistance often used by survivors with children. If a domestic violence survivor has custody of their children--formally or informally, they may apply for TANF. If qualified, they receive monthly assistance. However, receipt of this money requires the survivor to give up their own right to request child support. Instead, the District has the power to pursue a child support case against the non-custodial parent to recoup TANF money provided for the care of children.
Receipt of TANF also requires a survivor to cooperate with the Department of Human Services (DHS) and the Child Support Services Division (CSSD) when the District wants to start a child support case. If the custodial parent does not cooperate fully, they can lose TANF benefits or be sanctioned. This process of starting a case can be behind-the-scenes if a custodial parent provided sufficient information to DHS and CSSD during an initial meeting; in these instances, the initiation of a child support case may be unknown to the custodial parent and could occur months (or even years) after initial meetings with DHS and/or CSSD.
Child support cases can increase the risk of danger to domestic violence survivors, particularly if the survivor does not realize it is happening. Requests for child support can cause abusers to threaten, harass, and even assault survivors in retaliation for being pursued for child support, even though the survivor was not the person who started the case.
There are options available to help protect survivors under these circumstances. Survivors can apply for a "good cause waiver" to stop the cooperation requirement (and a child support case altogether) through DHS and CSSD. "Good cause" exists if the custodial parent fears the non-custodial parent will hurt a survivor or their children because the District is pursuing a child support case. A survivor needs to contact CSSD to request an application for a good cause waiver. CSSD will interview the survivor to determine if they qualify. A survivor can have an attorney present during this interview process if they choose.
If the survivor qualifies for a good cause waiver, CSSD will not initiate a child support case against the non-custodial parent. If the case was already initiated, CSSD will take legal steps to withdraw its petition from the court and close the case. An approved good cause waiver does not prevent a survivor receiving TANF from starting a child support case at a later date.
If you or someone you know is interested in learning more about the good cause waiver for domestic violence survivors, you can contact us to apply for our services by calling (202) 628-1161 or apply for assistance online.