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Excerpted from the 2000 House Ways and Means Green Book, "Child Support Enforcement Program"

The Child Support Enforcement Process

The goal of the child support program is to combine these Federal and State responsibilities and activities into an efficient machine that provides seven basic products: locating absent parents, establishing paternity, establishing child support orders, reviewing and modifying orders, promoting medical support, collecting and distributing support, and enforcing child support across State lines. Each of these services deserves extensive discussion.

Locating Absent Parents

In pursuing cases, child support officials try to obtain a great deal of information and several documents from the custodial parent or other sources. These include the name and address of the noncustodial parent; the noncustodial parent's Social Security number (SSN); children's birth certificates; the child support order; the divorce decree or separation agreement; the name and address of the current or most recent employer of the noncustodial parent; the names of friends and relatives or organizations to which the noncustodial parent might belong; information about income and assets; and any other information about noncustodial parents that might help locate them. Once this information is provided, it is used in strictest confidence.

If the Child Support Enforcement Program cannot locate the noncustodial parent with the information provided by the custodial parent, it must try to locate the noncustodial parent through the State parent locator service. The State uses various information sources such as telephone directories, motor vehicle registries, tax files, and employment and unemployment records. The State also can ask the FPLS to locate the noncustodial parent. The FPLS can access data from the Social Security Administration, the IRS, the Selective Service System, the Department of Defense, the Veterans Administration, the National Personnel Records Center, and State Employment Security Agencies. The FPLS provides SSNs, addresses, and employer and wage information to State and local child support agencies to establish and enforce child support orders.

The FPLS obtains employer addresses and wage and unemployment compensation information from the State employment security agencies. This information is very useful in helping child support officials work cases in which the custodial parent and children live in one State and the noncustodial parent lives or works in another State. Employment data are updated quarterly by employers reporting to their State employment security agency; unemployment data are updated continually from State unemployment compensation payment records.

The FPLS conducts weekly or biweekly matches with most of the agencies listed above. Each agency runs the cases against its data base and the names and SSNs that match are returned to FPLS and through FPLS to the requesting State or local child support office. During fiscal year 1997, the FPLS processed approximately 4.9 million requests for information from State and local CSE agencies.

Since October 1984, OCSE has participated in Project 1099 which provides State child support agencies access to all of the earned and unearned income information reported to IRS by employers and financial institutions. Project 1099, named after the IRS form on which both earned and unearned income is reported, is a cooperative effort involving State child support agencies, the OCSE, and the IRS. Examples of reported earned and unearned incomes include: interest paid on savings accounts, stocks and bonds, and distribution of dividends and capital gains; rent or royalty payments; prizes, awards, or winnings; fees paid directors or subcontractors; and unemployment compensation. The Project 1099 information is used to locate noncustodial parents and to verify income and employment. Project 1099 also helps locate additional nonwage income and assets of noncustodial parents who are employees as well as income and asset sources of self-employed and nonwage earning obligors. In fiscal year 1995, OCSE submitted about 3.9 million cases to the IRS under Project 1099 and over 2.5 million cases were matched (65 percent).

 The SSN is the key piece of information around which the child support information system is constructed. Most computer searches need the SSN in order to operate effectively. Thus, in the 1996 welfare reform law, Congress gave CSE agencies access to new sources for obtaining SSNs. Federal CSE law requires States to implement procedures requiring that the SSN of any applicant for a professional, driver's, occupational, recreational, or marriage license be recorded on the application (not on the face of the license itself). In addition, the 1996 law requires that the SSN of any individual subject to a divorce decree, support order, or paternity determination or acknowledgment be placed in the records relating to the matter and that the SSN of any individual who has died be placed in the death records and recorded on the death certificate.  

To further improve CSE's ability to locate absent parents, the 1996 law also requires States to have automated registries of child support orders containing records of each case in which CSE services are being provided and each support order established or modified on or after October 1, 1998. Local registries could be linked to form the State registry. The State registry is to include a record of the support owed under the order, arrearages, interest or late penalty charges, amounts collected, amounts distributed, child's date of birth, and any liens imposed. The registry also will include standardized information on both parents, such as name, SSN, date of birth, and case identification number.

 In one of the most important child support reforms in recent years, the 1996 law required States, by October 1, 1997, to establish an automated directory of new hires containing information from employers, including Federal, State, and local governments and labor organizations, for each newly hired employee. The directory must include the name, address and SSN of the employee and the employer's name, address, and tax identification number. This information is to be supplied by employers to the State new hires directory within 20 days after the employee is hired. Within 3 business days after receipt of new hire information, the State directory of new hires is required to furnish the information to the national directory of new hires. The new law also requires the establishment of a Federal case registry of child support orders and a national directory of new hires. The Federal directories are to consist of abstracts of information from the State directories and are located in the FPLS. In fiscal year 1998, there were more than 1 million matches in which employment and address information was returned to States to assist in the location of noncustodial parents who owed child support. In fiscal year 1999, with the addition of the case registry to the matching system, there were 2.8 million matches.

 The 1996 reforms allow all States to link up to an array of data bases and permits the FPLS to be used for the purpose of establishing parentage; establishing, setting the amount of, modifying, or enforcing child support obligations; or enforcing child custody or visitation orders. By May 1, 1998, a designated State agency must directly or by contract conduct automated comparisons of the SSNs reported by employers to the State directory of new hires and the SSNs of CSE cases that appear in the records of the State registry of child support orders. The Secretary of DHHS is required to conduct similar comparisons of the Federal directories. When a match occurs, the State directory of new hires is required to report to the State CSE agency the name, date of birth, and SSN of the employee, and the name, address, and identification number of the employer. The CSE agency must, within 2 business days, instruct appropriate employers to withhold child support obligations from the employee's paycheck, unless the employee's income is not subject to withholding.

 There are two exceptions to the immediate income withholding rule: (1) if one of the parties demonstrates, and the court (or administrative process) finds, that there is good cause not to require immediate withholding; or (2) if both parties agree in writing to an alternative arrangement. Employers must remit to the State disbursement unit income withheld within 7 business days after the employee's payday. States also are required to operate a centralized collection and disbursement unit that sends child support payments to custodial parents within 2 business days.

 Establishing Paternity

 Paternity establishment is a prerequisite for obtaining a child support order. In 1998, 32.8 percent of children born in the United States were born to unmarried women. According to the OCSE, in fiscal year 1997 paternity was established for only 34 percent of the children who needed paternity established. However, in recent years the CSE Program has made great strides in establishing paternity. Between 1994 and 1998, for example, the new In-Hospital Paternity Acknowledgement Program grew from 84,411 to 614,081 paternities established, a jump of well over 600 percent.

 But experts agree that the CSE Program must continue to improve paternity establishment. Without paternity established, children have no legal claim on their fathers' income. In addition to financial benefits, establishing paternity can provide social, psychological, and emotional benefits and in some cases the father's medical history may be needed to give a child proper care.

In the 1980s, legislation was enacted that contained provisions aimed at increasing the number of paternities established. Public Law 98-378, the Child Support Enforcement Amendments of 1984, required States to implement laws that permitted paternity to be established until a child's 18th birthday. Under the Family Support Act of 1988 (Public Law 100-485), States are required to initiate the establishment of paternity for all children under the age of 18, including those for whom an action to establish paternity was previously dismissed because of the existence of a statute of limitations of less than 18 years. The 1988 law encourages States to create simple civil procedures for establishing paternity in contested cases, requires States to have all parties in a contested paternity case take a genetic test upon the request of any party, requires the Federal Government to pay 90 percent of the laboratory costs of these tests, and permits States to charge persons not receiving Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) for the cost of establishing paternity. The 1988 law also sets paternity establishment standards for the States and stipulates that each State is required, in administering any law involving the issuance of birth certificates, to require both parents to furnish their SSN unless the State finds good cause for not doing so.

Congress took additional action to improve paternity establishment in the Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1993. This law required States to have in effect, by October 1, 1993, the following:

  1. A simple civil process for voluntarily acknowledging paternity under which the State must explain the rights and responsibilities of acknowledging paternity and afford due process safeguards. Procedures must include a hospital-based program for the voluntary acknowledgment of paternity during the period immediately preceding or following the birth of a child;
  2. A law under which the voluntary acknowledgment of paternity creates a rebuttable, or at State option, conclusive presumption of paternity, and under which such voluntary acknowledgments are admissible as evidence of paternity;
  3. A law under which the voluntary acknowledgment of paternity must be recognized as a basis for seeking a support order without requiring any further proceedings to establish paternity;
  4. Procedures which provide that any objection to genetic testing results must be made in writing within a specified number of days prior to any hearing at which such results may be introduced in evidence; if no objection is made, the test results must be admissible as evidence of paternity without the need for foundation testimony or other proof of authenticity or accuracy;
  5. A law which creates a rebuttable or, at the option of the State, conclusive presumption of paternity upon genetic testing results indicating a threshold probability of the alleged father being the father of the child;
  6. Procedures which require default orders in paternity cases upon a showing that process has been served on the defendant and whatever additional showing may be required by State law; and
  7. Expedited processes for paternity establishment in contested cases and full faith and credit to determinations of paternity made by other States.

The 1993 reforms also revised the mandatory paternity establishment requirements imposed on States by the Family Support Act of 1988. The most notable provision increased the mandatory paternity establishment percentage, which was backed up by financial penalties linked to a reduction of Federal matching funds for the State's AFDC (now TANF) Program (see Audits and Financial Penalties section). The welfare reform law of 1996 further strengthened the Nation's paternity establishment system. More specifically, the new law streamlines the paternity determination process; raises the paternity establishment requirement from 75 to 90 percent; implements a simple civil process for establishing paternity; requires a uniform affidavit to be completed by men voluntarily acknowledging paternity and entitles such affidavit to full faith and credit in any State; stipulates that a signed acknowledgment of paternity be considered a legal finding of paternity unless rescinded within 60 days and thereafter may be challenged in court only on the basis of fraud, duress, or material mistake of fact; and provides that no judicial or administrative action is needed to ratify an acknowledgment that is not challenged. The new law also requires States to publicize the availability and encourage the use of procedures for voluntary establishment of paternity and child support.

 Paternity acknowledgments must be filed with the State birth records agency. However, before a mother or alleged father can sign a paternity acknowledgment, each must be given notice (both orally and in writing) of the alternatives to, legal consequences of, and rights and responsibilities arising from the signed acknowledgment. Moreover, in the case of unmarried parents, the father's name shall not appear on the birth certificate unless he has signed a voluntary acknowledgment or a court has issued an adjudication of paternity.

 While employing these laws and procedures to establish paternity, States follow a predictable sequence of events. In cases for which paternity is not voluntarily acknowledged (which is still the majority of cases), the child support agency locates the alleged father and brings him to court or before an administrative agency where he can either acknowledge or dispute paternity. If he claims he is not the father, the court can require that he submit to parentage blood testing to establish the probability that he is the father. If the father denies paternity, a court usually decides the issue based on scientific and testimonial evidence. Through the use of testing techniques, a man may be excluded as a possible natural father, in which case no further action against him is warranted. Most States use one or more of several scientific methods for establishing paternity. These include: ABO blood typing system, human leukocyte antigen testing, red cell enzyme and serum protein electrophoresis, and deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) testing.

 The State CSE agency has the power (without the need for permission from a court or administrative tribunal) to order genetic tests in appropriate CSE cases. These CSE agencies also must recognize and enforce the ability of other State CSE agencies to take such actions. Moreover, genetic test results must be admissible as evidence so long as they are of a type generally acknowledged as reliable by accreditation bodies recognized by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) and performed by an entity approved by such an accredited body. Finally, in any case in which the CSE agency ordered the tests, the State must pay the initial costs. The State is allowed to recoup the cost from the father if paternity is established. If the original test result is contested, further testing can be ordered by the CSE agency if the contestant pays the cost in advance.

There are two types of testing procedures for paternity cases: (1) probability of exclusion tests, and (2) probability of paternity tests. Most laboratories perform probability of exclusion tests. This type of testing can determine with 90-99 percent accuracy that a man is ``not'' the father of a given child. There is a very high probability the test will exonerate a falsely accused man (Office of Child Support Enforcement, 1990).

Since the question of paternity is essentially a scientific one, it is important that the verification process include available advanced scientific technology. Experts now agree that use of the highly reliableDNA test greatly increases the likelihood of correct identification of putative fathers. DNA tests can be used either to exclude unlikely fathers or to establish a high likelihood that a given man is the father (Office of Child Support, 1990, see pp. 59-74). One expert, speaking at a child support conference, summed up the effectiveness of DNA testing as follows:

The DNA fingerprinting technique promises far superior reliability than current blood grouping or human leukocyte antigen analyses. The probability of an unrelated individual sharing the same patterns is practically zero. The ``DNA fingerprinting'' test, developed in England in 1985, refines the favorable statistics to an even greater degree, reducing the probability that two unrelated individuals will have the same DNA fingerprint to one in a quadrillion (Georgeson, 1989, p. 568).

If the putative father is not excluded on the basis of the scientific test results, authorities may still conclude on the basis of witnesses, resemblance, and other evidence that they do not have sufficient evidence to establish paternity and, therefore, will drop charges against him. Tests resulting in nonexclusion also may serve to convince the putative father that he is, in fact, the father. If this occurs, a voluntary admission often leads to a formal court order. When authorities believe there is enough evidence to support the mother's allegation, but the putative father continues to deny the charges, the case proceeds to a formal adjudication of paternity in a court of law (McKillop, 1981, pp. 22-23). Using the results of the blood test and other evidence, the court or the child support agency, often through an administrative process, may dismiss the case or enter an order of paternity, a prerequisite to obtaining a court order requiring a noncustodial parent to pay support (U.S. General Accounting Office, 1987).

In fiscal year 1998, 848,000 paternities were established, up from 245,000 in fiscal year 1986. While the number of paternities established through child support agencies reached a record high in 1998, huge disparities exist among States. For example, the percentage of children in the Child Support Enforcement Program for whom paternity was established averaged 64 percent nationally, but ranged from 16 percent in Iowa to 155 percent in Maryland (some paternities established are for children born in previous years). In addition to the 848,000 paternities established in fiscal year 1998, 614,000 paternities were voluntarily acknowledged in the hospital.

Establishing Orders

 A child support order legally obligates noncustodial parents to provide financial support for their children and stipulates the amount of the obligation (current weekly obligation plus arrearages, if any) and how it is to be paid. Many States have statutes that provide that, in the absence of a child support award, the payment of Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) benefits to the child of a noncustodial parent creates a debt due from the parent or parents in the amount of the TANF benefit. Other States operate under the common law principle, which maintains that a father is obligated to reimburse any person who has provided his child with food, shelter, clothing, medical attention, or education. States can establish child support obligations either by judicial or administrative process.

Judicial and administrative systems

The courts have traditionally played a major role in the child support program. Judges establish orders, establish paternity, and provide authority for all enforcement activity. The child support literature generally concludes that the judicial process offers several advantages, especially by providing more adequate protection for the legal rights of the noncustodial parent and by offering a wide range of enforcement remedies, such as civil contempt and possible incarceration. A major problem of using courts, however, is that they are often cumbersome, expensive, and time consuming.

Thus, the advantages of an administrative process are very compelling. These include offering quicker service because documents do not have to be filed with the court clerk nor await the signature of the judge, eliminating time consuming problems in scheduling court appearances, providing a more uniform and consistent obligation amount, and saving money because of reduced court costs and attorney fees.

 The 1984 child support amendments required States to limit the role of the courts significantly by implementing administrative or judicial expedited processes. States are required to have quasi-judicial or administrative systems to expedite the process for obtaining and enforcing a support order. Since 1993, States have been required to extend these expedited processes to paternity establishment.

Most child support officials view the growth of expedited administrative processes as an improvement in the child support program. An expedited judicial process is a legal process in effect under a State's judicial system that reduces the processing time of establishing and enforcing a support order. To expedite case processing, a ``judge surrogate'' is given authority to: take testimony and establish a record, evaluate and make initial decisions, enter default orders if the noncustodial parent does not respond to ``notice'' or other State ``service of process'' in a timely manner, accept voluntary acknowledgment of support liability and approve stipulated agreements to pay support. In addition, if the State establishes paternity using the expedited judicial process, the surrogate can accept voluntary acknowledgement of paternity. Judge surrogates are sometimes referred to as court masters, referees, hearing officers, commissioners, or presiding officers.

The purpose of an expedited administrative process is to increase effectiveness and meet specified processing times in child support cases and paternity actions. Federal regulations specify that 90 percent of cases must be processed within 3 months, 98 percent within 6 months, and 100 percent within 12 months.

The Federal regulations also contain additional requirements related to the expedited process. Proceedings conducted pursuant to either the expedited judicial or expedited administrative process must be presided over by an individual who is not a judge of the court. Orders established by expedited process must have the same force and effect under State law as orders established by full judicial process, although either process may provide that a judge first ratify the order. Within these broad limitations, each State is free to design an expedited process that is best suited to its administrative needs and legal traditions.

 Under the 1996 welfare reform law, the expedited procedure rules were broadened to cover modification of support orders. The new law also requires that State tribunals--whether quasi-judicial or administrative--must have statewide jurisdiction over the parties and permit intrastate case transfers from one tribunal to another without the need to refile the case or re-serve the respondent. In addition, once a support/paternity order is entered, the tribunal must require each party to file and periodically update certain information with both the tribunal and the State's child support case registry. This information includes the parent's SSN, residential and mailing addresses, telephone number, driver's license number, and employer's name, address and telephone number.

 Moreover, the 1996 reforms require States to adopt laws that give the CSE agency authority to initiate a series of expedited procedures without the necessity of obtaining an order from any other administrative agency or judicial tribunal. These actions include: ordering genetic testing; issuing subpoenas; requiring public and private employers and other entities to provide information on employment, compensation, and benefits or be subject to penalties; obtaining access to vital statistics, State and local tax records, real and personal property records, records of occupational and professional licenses, business records, employment security and public assistance records, motor vehicle records, corrections records, customer records of utilities and cable television companies pursuant to an administrative subpoena, and records of financial institutions; directing the obligor to make payments to the child support agency in public assistance or income withholding cases; ordering income withholding; securing assets to satisfy judgments and settlements; and increasing the monthly support due to make payments on arrearages.

Determining the amount of support orders

Before October 1989, the decision of how much a parent should pay for child support was left primarily to the discretion of the court. Typically, judges examined financial statements from mothers and fathers and established awards based on children's needs. The resulting awards varied greatly. Moreover, this case-by-case approach resulted in very low awards. As late as 1991, the average amount of child support received by custodial parents was $2,961, less than $250 per month.

In an attempt to increase the use of objective criteria, the 1984 child support amendments required each State to establish, by October 1987, guidelines for determining child support award amounts ``by law or by judicial or administrative action'' \1\ and to make the guidelines available ``to all judges and other officials who have the power to determine child support awards within the State.'' Federal regulations made the provision more specific: State child support guidelines must be based on specific descriptive and numeric criteria and result in a computation of the support obligation. The 1984 provision did not make the guidelines binding on judges and other officials who had the authority to establish child support obligations. However, the Family Support Act of 1988 required States to pass legislation making the State child support guidelines a ``rebuttable presumption'' in any judicial or administrative proceeding and establishing the amount of the order which results from the application of the State-established guidelines as the correct amount to be awarded.

States generally use one of three basic types of guidelines to determine award amounts: ``Income shares,'' which is based on the combined income of both parents (31 States); ``percentage of income,'' in which the number of eligible children is used to determine a percentage of the noncustodial parents' income to be paid in child support (15 States); and ``Melson-Delaware,'' which provides a minimum self-support reserve for parents before the cost of rearing the children is prorated between the parents to determine the award amount (Delaware, Hawaii, West Virginia). Two jurisdictions (the District of Columbia and Massachusetts) use variants of one or more of these three approaches (Williams, 1994).

The income shares approach is designed to ensure that the children of divorced parents suffer the lowest possible decline in standard of living. The approach is intended to ensure that the child receives the same proportion of parental income that he would have received if the parents lived together. The first step in the income shares approach is to determine the combined income of the two parents. A percentage of that combined income, which varies by income level, is used to calculate a ``primary support obligation.'' The percentages decline as income rises, although the absolute amount of the primary support obligation increases with income. Many States add child care costs and extraordinary medical expenses to the primary support obligation. The resulting total child support obligation is apportioned between the parents on the basis of their incomes. The noncustodial parent's share is the child support award (Office of Child Support, 1987, pp. II 67-80).

The percentage of income approach is based on the noncustodial parent's gross income and the number of children to be supported (the child support obligation is not adjusted for the income of the custodial parent). The percentages vary by State. In Wisconsin, child support is based on the following proportions of the noncustodial parent's gross income: one child--17 percent; two children--25 percent; three children--29 percent; four children--31 percent; and five or more children--34 percent. There is no self support reserve in this approach nor is there separate treatment for child care or extraordinary medical expenses. The States that use a percentage of income approach are Alaska, Arkansas, Connecticut, Georgia, Illinois, Minnesota, Mississippi, Nevada, New Hampshire, New York, North Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Wisconsin, and Wyoming.

The Melson-Delaware formula starts with net income.\2\ After determining net income for each parent, a primary support allowance is subtracted from each parent's income. This reserve represents the minimum amount required for adults to meet their own subsistence requirements. The next step is to determine a primary support amount for each dependent child. Work-related child care expenses and extraordinary medical expenses are added to the child's primary support amount. The child's primary support needs are then apportioned between the parents. To ensure that children share in any additional income the parents might have, a percentage of the parents' remaining income is allocated among the children (the percentage is based on the number of dependent children). The States that use the Melson-Delaware approach are Delaware, Hawaii, and West Virginia.---------------------------------------------------------------------------

\2\ Net income equals income from employment and other sources plus business expense accounts if they provide the parent with an automobile, lunches, etc., minus income taxes based on maximum allowable exemptions, other deductions required by law, deductions required by an employer or union, legitimate business expenses, and benefits such as medical insurance maintained for dependents.---------------------------------------------------------------------------

Pirog, Klotz, and Buyers (1997) have examined the differences in child support guidelines across States. Their approach was to define five hypothetical cases of custodial mothers and noncustodial fathers that capture a range of differences in income, expenses, and other factors that influence the amount of child support payments computed under the guidelines adopted by the various States. State 1997 guidelines were then applied to each of the five cases to compute the amount of child support that would be due. In each of the five cases, the mother and father are divorced. The father lives alone while the mother lives with the couples' two children, ages 7 and 13. The father pays union dues of $30 per month and health insurance for the children of $25 per month. The mother incurs monthly employment-related child care expenses of $150. The income of the fathers and mothers are:

Case A: father--$530; mother--$300

Case B: father--$720; mother--$480

Case C: father--$2,500; mother--$1,000

Case D: father--$4,400; mother--$1,760

Case E: father--$6,300; mother--$4,200

Award rates

In 1995, of the 11.6 million custodial mothers of children under the age of 21 whose father was not living in the household, only 7.1 million or 61 percent had a child support award and were owed child support. About one-third of the 4.5 million custodial mothers without awards chose not to pursue a child support award. In other cases, custodial parents were unable to locate the noncustodial parent, had a nonlegal agreement with the noncustodial parent, or the noncustodial parent was unable to pay. Never-married custodial parents were the group least likely to have a child support award. Only 44 percent of never-married custodial mothers had support awards compared with 76 percent of divorced custodial mothers. Moreover, black custodial mothers and custodial mothers of Hispanic origin were much less likely than their white counterparts to have child support awards. About 72 percent of whites had child support awards, compared with 45 percent of blacks and 47 percent of Hispanics (U.S. Census Bureau, 1999).

Unresolved issues

As noted by Garfinkel, Melli, and Robertson (1994), there are a host of controversial issues associated with child support awards. These include whether child care costs, extraordinary medical expenses, and college costs are taken into account in determining the support order; how the income of the noncustodial parent is allocated between first and subsequent families; \3\ how the income of stepparents is treated; whether a minimum child support award level regardless of age or circumstance of the noncustodial parent should be imposed; whether income earned as a result of a custodial parent's participation in an AFDC work, education, and training program is taken into account; and the duration of the support order (i.e., does the support obligation end when the child reaches age 18; what happens to arrearages).

Reviewing and Modifying Orders

Without periodic modifications, child support obligations can become inadequate and inequitable. Historically, the only way to modify a child support order was to require a party to petition the court for a modification based on a ``change in circumstances.'' What constituted a change in circumstances sufficient to modify the order depended on the State and the court. The person requesting modification was responsible for filing the motion, serving notice, hiring a lawyer, and proving a change in circumstances of sufficient magnitude to satisfy statutory standards. The modification proceeding was a two step process. First the court determined whether a modification was appropriate. Next, the amount of the new obligation was determined.

Because this approach to updating orders was so cumbersome, the Family Support Act of 1988 required States both to use guidelines as a rebuttable presumption in all proceedings for the award of child support and to review and adjust child support orders in accordance with the guidelines. These provisions reflected congressional intent to simplify the updating of support orders by requiring a process in which the standard for modification was the State child support guidelines. They also reflect a recognition that the traditional burden of proof for changing the amount of the support order was a barrier to updating. Finally, the 1988 law signaled a need for States to at least expand, if not replace, the traditional ``change in circumstances'' test as the legal prerequisite for updating support orders by making State guidelines the presumptively correct amount of support to be paid (Federal Register, 1992, p. 61560).

The Family Support Act also required States to review guidelines at least once every 4 years and have procedures for review and adjustment of orders, consistent with a plan indicating how and when child support orders are to be reviewed and adjusted. Review may take place at the request of either parent subject to the order or at the request of a State child support agency. Any adjustment to the award must be consistent with the State's guidelines, which must be used as a rebuttable presumption in establishing or adjusting the support order. The Family Support Act also required States to review all orders being enforced under the child support program within 36 months after establishment or after the most recent review of the order and to adjust the order in accord with the State's guidelines.

Review is required in child support cases in which support rights are assigned to the State, unless the State has determined that review would not be in the best interests of the child and neither parent has requested a review. This provision applies to child support orders in cases in which benefits under the TANF, foster care, or Medicaid Programs are currently being provided, but does not include orders for former TANF, foster care, or Medicaid cases, even if the State retains an assignment of support rights for arrearages that accumulated during the time the family was on welfare. In child support cases in which there is no current assignment of support rights to the State, review is required at least once every 36 months only if a parent requests it. If the review indicates that adjustment of the support amount is appropriate, the State must proceed to adjust the award accordingly.

The Family Support Act also required States to notify parents in cases being enforced by the State of their right to request a review, of their right to be informed of the forthcoming review at least 30 days before the review begins, and of any proposed adjustment or determination that there should be no change in the award amount. In the latter case, the parent must be given at least 30 days after notification to initiate proceedings to challenge the proposed adjustment or determination.

 The 1996 welfare reform law somewhat revised the review and modification requirements. The mandatory 3-year review of child support orders is slightly modified to permit States some flexibility in determining which reviews of welfare cases should be pursued and in choosing methods of review. States must review orders every 3 years (or more often at State option) if either parent or the State requests a review in welfare cases or if either parent requests a review in nonwelfare cases. States must notify parents of their review and adjustment rights at least once every 3 years. States can use one of three different methods for adjusting orders: (1) the child support guidelines (i.e., current law); (2) an inflation adjustment in accordance with a formula developed by the State; or (3) an automated method to identify orders eligible for review followed by an appropriate adjustment to the order, not to exceed any threshold amount determined by the State. If either an inflation adjustment or an automated method is used, the State must allow either parent to contest the adjustment.

Especially during the early 1980s, a major issue in the modification of awards was the practice of retroactive modifications. The vast majority of such retroactive modifications had the effect of reducing the amount of child support ordered. Thus, for example, an order for $200 a month for child support, which was unpaid for 36 months, should accumulate an arrearage of $7,200. Yet, if the obligor was brought to court, having made no prior attempt to modify the order, the order might be reduced to $100 a month retroactive to 36 months prior to the date of modification. This retroactive modification would reduce the arrearage from $7,200 to $3,600. Cases such as this, which had serious impacts on custodial parents and their children, convinced Congress to take action.

Thus, in 1986 Congress enacted section 9103 of Public Law 99-509 (section 466(a)(9) of the Social Security Act) to change State practices involving modification of child support arrears. The provision required States to change their laws so that any payment of child support, on and after the date due, is a ``judgment'' (the official decision or finding of a court on the respective rights and claims of the parties to an action) by operation of law. The provision also requires that the judgment be entitled to full faith and credit in the originating State and in any other State. Full faith and credit is a constitutional principle that the various States must recognize the judgments of other States within the United States and accord them the force and effect they would have in their home State.

The 1986 provision also greatly restricts retroactive modification to make it more difficult for courts and administrative entities to forgive or reduce arrearages. More specifically, orders can be retroactively modified only for a period during which there is pending a petition for modification and only from the date that notice of the petition has been given to the custodial or noncustodial parent.

Promoting Medical Support

Section 16 of Public Law 98-378, enacted in 1984, requires the Secretary of DHHS to issue regulations to require that State child support agencies petition for the inclusion of medical support as part of any child support order whenever health care coverage is available to the noncustodial parent at reasonable cost. According to Federal regulations, any employment-related or other group coverage is considered reasonable, under the assumption that health insurance is inexpensive to the employee/noncustodial parent. A 1993 study by Cooper and Johnson that analyzed 1987 data from the Center for Health Expenditures and Insurance Studies indicated that for workers with income below the poverty line and employer-provided family health insurance coverage, 77 percent of the premium was paid for by the employer.

On October 16, 1985, the Office of Child Support Enforcement (OCSE) published regulations amending previous regulations and implementing section 16 of Public Law 98-378. The regulations require State child support agencies to obtain basic medical support information and provide this information to the State Medicaid agency. The purpose of medical support enforcement is to expand the number of children for whom private health insurance coverage is obtained by increasing the availability of third party resources to pay for medical care and thereby reduce Medicaid costs for both the States and the Federal Government. If the custodial parent does not have satisfactory health insurance coverage, the child support agency must petition the court or administrative authority to include medical support in new or modified support orders and inform the State Medicaid agency of any new or modified support orders that include a medical support obligation. The regulations also require child support agencies to enforce medical support that has been ordered by a court or administrative process. States receive child support matching funds at the 66-percent rate for required medical support activities. Before these regulations were issued, medical support activities were pursued by child support agencies only under optional cooperative agreements with Medicaid agencies.

Some of the functions that the child support agency may perform under a cooperative agreement with the Medicaid agency include: receiving referrals from the Medicaid agency, locating noncustodial parents, establishing paternity, determining whether the noncustodial parent has a health insurance policy or plan that covers the child, obtaining sufficient information about the health insurance policy or plan to permit the filing of a claim with the insurer, filing a claim with the insurer or transmitting the necessary information to the Medicaid agency, securing health insurance coverage through court or administrative order, and recovering amounts necessary to reimburse medical assistance payments.

On September 16, 1988, OCSE issued regulations expanding the medical support enforcement provisions. These regulations require the child support agency to develop criteria to identify existing child support cases that have a high potential for obtaining medical support, and to petition the court or administrative authority to modify support orders to include medical support for these cases even if no other modification is anticipated. The child support agency also is required to provide the custodial parent with information regarding the health insurance coverage obtained by the noncustodial parent for the child. Moreover, the regulation deletes the condition that child support agencies may secure health insurance coverage under a cooperative agreement only when it will not reduce the noncustodial parent's ability to pay child support.

Before late 1993, employees covered under their employer's health care plans generally could provide coverage to children only if the children lived with the employee. However, as a result of divorce proceedings, employees often lost custody of their children but were nonetheless required to provide their health care coverage. While the employee would be obliged to follow the court's directive, the employer that sponsored the employee's health care plan was under no similar obligation. Even if the court ordered the employer to continue health care coverage for the nonresident child of their employee, the employer would be under no legal obligation to do so (Shulman, 1994, pp. 1-2). Aware of this situation, Congress took the following legislative action in the Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1993:

  1. Insurers were prohibited from denying enrollment of a child under the health insurance coverage of the child's parent on the grounds that the child was born out of wedlock, is not claimed as a dependent on the parent's Federal income tax return, or does not reside with the parent or in the insurer's service area;
  2. Insurers and employers were required, in any case in which a parent is required by court order to provide health coverage for a child and the child is otherwise eligible for family health coverage through the insurer: (a) to permit the parent, without regard to any enrollment season restrictions, to enroll the child under such family coverage; (b) if the parent fails to provide health insurance coverage for a child, to enroll the child upon application by the child's other parent or the State child support or Medicaid agency; and (c) with respect to employers, not to disenroll the child unless there is satisfactory written evidence that the order is no longer in effect or the child is or will be enrolled in comparable health coverage through another insurer that will take effect not later than the effective date of the disenrollment;
  3. Employers doing business in the State, if they offer health insurance and if a court order is in effect, were required to withhold from the employee's compensation the employee's share of premiums for health insurance and to pay that share to the insurer. The Secretary of DHHS may provide by regulation for such exceptions to this requirement (and other requirements described above that apply to employers) as the Secretary determines necessary to ensure compliance with an order, or with the limits on withholding that are specified in section 303(b) of the Consumer Credit Protection Act;
  4. Insurers were prohibited from imposing requirements on a State agency acting as an agent or assignee of an individual eligible for medical assistance that are different from requirements applicable to an agent or assignee of any other individual;
  5. Insurers were required, in the case of a child who has coverage through the insurer of a noncustodial parent to: (a) provide the custodial parent with the information necessary for the child to obtain benefits; (b) permit the custodial parent (or provider, with the custodial parent's approval) to submit claims for covered services without the approval of the noncustodial parent; and (c) make payment on claims directly to the custodial parent, the provider, or the State agency; and
  6. The State Medicaid agency was permitted to garnish the wages, salary, or other employment income of, and to withhold State tax refunds to, any person who: (a) is required by court or administrative order to provide health insurance coverage to an individual eligible for Medicaid; (b) has received payment from a third party for the costs of medical services to that individual; and (c) has not reimbursed either the individual or the provider. The amount subject to garnishment or withholding is the amount required to reimburse the State agency for expenditures for costs of medical services provided under the Medicaid Program. Claims for current or past due child support take priority over any claims for the costs of medical services.

These provisions appear to be having an impact on the number of children in single-parent families with medical coverage. According to OCSE data, 61 percent of support orders established in fiscal year 1997 included health insurance, up from 46 percent in fiscal year 1991 but down somewhat from 67 percent in fiscal year 1996. Nevertheless, only 39 percent of support orders enforced or modified in fiscal year 1997 included health insurance, up only slightly from 35 percent in 1991. These figures indicate that many children still lack coverage. One way to increase medical support may be to require withholding of health insurance premiums in all cases with medical support orders (Gordon, 1994).

Under the 1996 welfare reform legislation, the definition of ``medical child support order'' in the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) was expanded to clarify that any judgment, decree, or order that is issued by a court or by an administrative process has the force and effect of law. In addition, the new law stipulates that all orders enforced by the State CSE agency must include a provision for health care coverage. If the noncustodial parent changes jobs and the new employer provides health coverage, the State must send notice of coverage to the new employer; the notice must serve to enroll the child in the health plan of the new employer.

Public Law 105-200, enacted in 1998, provides for a uniform manner for States to inform employers about their need to enroll the children of noncustodial parents in employer-sponsored health plans. It requires the CSE agency to use a standardized national medical support notice (developed by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) and the Department of Labor) to communicate to employers the issuance of a medical support order. Employers are required to accept the form as a ``qualified medical support order'' under ERISA.

Collecting Child Support

Local courts and child support enforcement agencies attempt to collect child support when the noncustodial parent does not pay. The most important collection method is wage withholding. Other techniques for enforcing payments include regular billings; delinquency notices; liens on property; offset of unemployment compensation payments; seizure and sale of property; reporting arrearages to credit agencies; garnishment of wages; seizure of State and Federal income tax refunds; revocation of various types of licenses (drivers', business, occupational, recreational) to persons who are delinquent in their child support payments; attachment of lottery winnings and insurance settlements of debtor parents; and Federal imprisonment, fines or both.

 In addition to approaches authorized by the Federal Government through the child support program, States use a variety of other collection techniques. In fact, States have been at the forefront in implementing innovative approaches. Some States hire private collection agencies to collect child support payments. Some States bring charges of criminal nonsupport or civil or criminal contempt of court against noncustodial parents who fail to pay child support. These court proceedings are usually lengthy because of court backlogs, delays, and continuances. Once a court decides the case, noncustodial parents are often given probation or suspended sentences, and occasionally they are even awarded lower support payments and partial payment of arrearages. To combat problems associated with court delays, the child support statute requires States to implement expedited processes under the State judicial system or State administrative processes for obtaining and enforcing support orders.

Given the pivotal role of collections in the child support process, this section now turns to detailed discussion of the most effective collections procedures.

Wage withholding

The Family Support Act of 1988 greatly expanded wage withholding by requiring immediate withholding to begin in November 1990 for all new or modified orders being enforced by States. Equally important, States were required, with some exceptions, to implement immediate wage withholding in all support orders initially issued on or after January 1, 1994, regardless of whether a parent has applied for child support services.

The child support amendments of 1984 also required that States have in effect two distinct procedures for withholding wages of noncustodial parents. First, for existing cases enforced through the child support agency, States were required to impose wage withholding whenever an arrearage accrued that was equal to the amount of support payable for 1 month. Second, for all child support cases, all new or modified orders were required to include a provision for wage withholding when an arrearage occurs. The intent of the second procedure was to ensure that orders not enforced through the child support agency contain the authority necessary to permit wage withholding to be initiated by someone other than the child support agency if and when an arrearage occurs.

According to the Federal statute, State due process requirements govern the scope of notice that must be provided to an obligor (i.e., noncustodial parent) when withholding is triggered. As a general rule, the noncustodial parent is entitled to advance notice of the withholding procedure. This notice, where required, must inform the noncustodial parent of the following: the amount that will be withheld; the application of withholding to any current or subsequent period of employment; the procedures available for contesting the withholding and the sole basis for objection (i.e., mistake of fact); the period allotted to contest the withholding and the result of failure to contact the State within this timeframe (i.e., issuance of notification to the employer to begin withholding); and the steps the State will take if the noncustodial parent contests the withholding, including the procedure to resolve such contests.

If the noncustodial parent contests the withholding notice, the State must conduct a hearing, determine if the withholding is valid, notify the noncustodial parent of the decision, and notify the employer to commence the deductions if withholding is upheld. All of this must occur within 45 days of the initial notice of withholding. Whether a State uses a judicial or an administrative process, the only basis for a hearing is a factual mistake about the amount owed (current, arrearage or both) or the identity of the noncustodial parent.

When withholding is uncontested or when a contested case is resolved in favor of withholding, the administering agency must serve a withholding notice on the employer. The employer is required to withhold as much of the noncustodial parent's wages as is necessary to comply with the order, including the current support amount plus an amount to be applied toward liquidation of any arrearage. In addition, the employer may retain a fee to offset the administrative cost of implementing withholding. Employer fees per wage withholding transaction range from nothing to $3 per pay period to $5 per attachment to $10 per month (Office of Child Support, 1986, p. 7).

The Federal Consumer Credit Protection Act limits garnishment to 50 percent of disposable earnings for a noncustodial parent who is the head of a household, and 60 percent for a noncustodial parent who is not supporting a second family. These percentages increase by 5 percentage points, to 55 and 65 percent respectively, when the arrearages represent support that was due more than 12 weeks before the current pay period.

Upon receiving a withholding notice, the employer must begin withholding the appropriate amount of the obligor's wages no later than the first pay period that occurs after 14 days following the date the notice was mailed. The 1984 amendments regulate the language in State statutes on the other rights and liabilities of the employer. For instance, the employer is subject to a fine for discharging a noncustodial parent or taking other forms of retaliation as a result of a withholding order. In addition, the employer is held liable for amounts not withheld as directed.

In addition to being able to charge the noncustodial parent a fee for the administrative costs associated with wage withholding, the employer can combine all support payments required to be withheld for multiple obligors into a single payment and forward it to the child support agency or court with a list of the cases to which the payments apply. The employer need not vary from the normal pay and disbursement cycle to comply with withholding orders; however, support payments must be forwarded to the State or other designated agency within 10 days of the date on which the noncustodial parent is paid.

When the noncustodial parent changes jobs, the previous employer must notify the court or agency that entered the withholding order. The State must then notify the new employer or income source to begin withholding from the obligor's wages. In addition, States must develop procedures to terminate income withholding orders when all of the children are emancipated and no arrearage exists.

 Federal law provides three exceptions to the income withholding rule: (1) if one of the parents demonstrates, and the court (or administrative process) finds, that there is good cause not to require immediate income withholding, (2) if both parents agree in writing to an alternative payment arrangement, or (3) at the DHHS Secretary's discretion, if a State can demonstrate that the rule will not increase the effectiveness or efficiency of the State's CSE Program. For income withholding purposes, ``income'' means any periodic form of payment due an individual, regardless of source, including wages, salaries, commissions, bonuses, workers' compensation, disability, payments from a pension or retirement program, and interest.

The congressional emphasis on wage withholding has paid off handsomely. Although the total amount of support collected through wage withholding increased each year, reaching $8.0 billion in 1998, the percentage of total collections achieved through wage withholding appears to have leveled off at about 56 percent.Federal income tax refund offset

Under this program, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), operating on request from a State filed through the Secretary of DHHS, simply intercepts tax returns and deducts the amount of certified child support arrearages. The money is then sent to the State for distribution. The availability of the IRS collection mechanism for child support was strengthened by the Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1981 (Public Law 97-35). IRS can now withhold past due support from Federal tax refunds upon a simple showing by the State that an individual owes at least $150 in past due support which has been assigned to the State as a condition of Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) eligibility. The withheld amount is sent to the State agency, together with notice of the taxpayer's current address.

The 1984 amendments created a similar IRS Offset Program for non-AFDC families owed child support. States must submit to the IRS for withholding the names of absent parents who have arrearages of at least $500 and who, on the basis of current payment patterns and the enforcement efforts that have been made, are unlikely to pay the arrearage before the IRS offset can occur. The law establishes specific notice requirements and mandates that the noncustodial parent and his spouse (if any) be informed of the impending use of the tax offset procedure. The purpose of this notice is to protect the unobligated spouse's portion of the tax refund. The 1988 provision applied to refunds payable after December 31, 1985, and before January 1, 1991. Public Law 101-508, enacted in 1990, makes permanent the IRS Offset Program for non-AFDC families.

In tax year 1998, according to DHHS, more than 1.4 million cases were offset. The total amount intercepted was about $1.3 billion, up by a factor of well over four since 1986 ($308 million). In tax year 1998, the average collection for Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) families was $923; the average collection for non-TANF families was $952.State income tax refund offset

The child support amendments of 1984 mandate that States increase the effectiveness of the child support program by, among other things, enacting several collection procedures. Among the required procedures is the interception of State income tax refunds payable to noncustodial parents up to the amount of overdue support. As in the case of liens and bonds, this procedure need not be used in cases found inappropriate under State guidelines.

In order for the State tax refund offset to work effectively, cooperation between the State's department of revenue and the child support agency is crucial. The names and Social Security numbers (SSNs) of delinquent noncustodial parents are submitted to the department of revenue for matching with tax return forms. If a match occurs and a refund is due, the refund or a portion of it is transferred from the State department of revenue to the child support agency and then credited to the appropriate noncustodial parent to offset his support debt. The child support agency must give advance notice of the impending offset to the noncustodial parent and must also inform him of the process for contesting and resolving the proposed action. If the custodial parent does not respond to the notice, the money is intercepted and forwarded to the child support agency for distribution.

In fiscal year 1998, the State Tax Intercept Program collected $136 million (table 8-3). Unlike the Federal program, which requires that States certify a specified amount before the offset can be applied ($150 for TANF families and $500 for non-TANF families), States choose their own level for certification. In many States, the amount is the same for both TANF and non-TANF families. Although the amounts vary greatly from State to State, the amount in the typical State is about $100.Unemployment compensation intercept

Public Law 97-35, the Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1981, requires State child support agencies to determine on a periodic basis whether individuals receiving unemployment compensation owe support obligations that are not being met. The act also requires child support agencies to enforce support obligations in accord with State-developed guidelines for obtaining an agreement with the individual to have a specified amount of support withheld from unemployment compensation or, in the absence of an agreement, for bringing legal proceedings to require the withholding. The child support agency must reimburse the State employment security agency for the administrative costs attributable to withholding unemployment compensation.

The unemployment compensation intercept collected $204 million in fiscal year 1998 (table 8-3). A number of States, especially those with high levels of unemployment, are finding that the unemployment offset procedure can raise collections significantly.Property liens

A lien is a legal claim on someone's property as security against a just debt. The use of liens for child support enforcement was characterized during congressional debate on the child support amendments of 1984 as ``simple to execute and cost effective and a catalyst for an absent parent to pay past due support in order to clear title to the property in question'' (U.S. House, 1983). The House report also stated that liens would complement the income withholding provisions of the 1984 law and be particularly helpful in enforcing support payments owed by noncustodial parents with substantial assets or income but who are not salaried employees.

The 1984 legislation required States to enact laws and implement ``procedures under which liens are imposed against real property for amount of overdue support owed by an absent parent who resides or owns property in the State.'' Liens can apply to property such as land, vehicles, houses, antique furniture, and livestock. The law provides, however, that States need not use liens in cases in which, on the basis of guidelines that generally are available to the public, they determine that lien procedures would be inappropriate. This provision implicitly requires States to develop guidelines about use of liens.

Generally, a lien for delinquent child support is a statutorily created mechanism by which an obligee obtains a nonpossessory interest in property belonging to the noncustodial parent. The interest of the custodial parent is a slumbering interest that allows the noncustodial parent to retain possession of the property, but affects the noncustodial parent's ability to sell the property or transfer ownership to anyone else. A child support lien converts the custodial parent from an unsecured to a secured creditor. As such, it gives the custodial parent priority over unsecured creditors and subsequent secured creditors. In some States a lien is established automatically upon entry of a support order and the first incidence of noncompliance by the obligor. Frequently, the mere imposition of a lien will motivate the delinquent parent to pay past-due support to remove the lien. When this is not the case, it may become necessary to enforce the lien. Liens are not self-executory. If a lien exists, a debtor must satisfy the judgment before the property may be sold or transferred. However, it is not necessary for the obligee to wait until the obligor tries to transfer the property before taking action. The obligee may enforce her judgment by execution and levy against the property if she believes the amount of equity in the property justifies execution.

A procedure developed by the IRS, known as Project 1099 (that is, the number of the IRS form used), has helped several States increase their use of liens by identifying individuals who possess appropriate assets. Initiated in 1984 to assist in location efforts, since the fall of 1988 Project 1099 has routinely provided wage and employer information as well as location and asset information on noncustodial parents.

 The welfare reform legislation passed in 1996 (Public Law 104-193) requires States to have procedures under which liens arise by operation of law against property for the amount of the past-due support. States must grant full faith and credit to liens of other States if the originating State agency or party has complied with procedural rules relating to the recording or serving of lien.Bonds, securities, and other guarantees

The 1984 child support amendments require States to have in effect and use procedures under which noncustodial parents must post security, bond, or some other guarantee to secure payment of overdue child support. This technique is useful where significant assets exist although the noncustodial parent's income is sporadic, seasonal, or derived from self-employment. As in the case of liens, this procedure need not be used in cases found inappropriate under State guidelines. The State guidelines should define and target assets that can appropriately be sought to secure or guarantee payment without hindering the noncustodial parent from effectively pursuing his livelihood.IRS full collection process

Since 1975, Congress has authorized the IRS to collect certain child support arrearages as if they were delinquent Federal taxes. This method is known as the IRS full collection process. It works as follows. The Secretary of DHHS must, upon the request of a State, certify to the Secretary of Treasury any amounts identified by the State as delinquent child support. The Secretary of DHHS may certify only the amounts delinquent under a court or administrative order, and only upon a showing by the State that it has made diligent and reasonable efforts to collect amounts due using its own collection mechanisms. States must reimburse the Federal Government for any costs involved in making the collections. This full collection process is used only when there is a good chance that the IRS can make a collection and only for cases in which a child support obligation is delinquent and the amount owed has been certified to be at least $750. Use by the States of this regular IRS collection mechanism, which may include seizure of property, freezing of accounts, and use of other aggressive procedures, has been relatively infrequent. In fiscal year 1995, collections were made in 463 cases nationwide, for a total collection of $1,153,473.Withholding of passports and various types of licenses

The 1996 welfare reform law required States to implement procedures under which the State would have authority to withhold, suspend, or restrict use of driver's licenses, professional and occupational licenses, and recreational and sporting licenses of persons who owe past-due support or who fail to comply with subpoenas or warrants relating to paternity or child support proceedings. The law also authorized the Secretary of State to deny, revoke, or restrict passports of debtor parents whose child support arrearages exceed $5,000. According to DHHS, the passport denial program has collected more than $2.25 million in lump sum child support payments and is currently denying 30 to 40 passports daily to delinquent noncustodial parents.Credit bureau reporting

The 1984 Federal child support legislation required States to develop procedures for providing child support debt information to credit reporting agencies (sometimes referred to as credit bureaus). The primary purposes for reporting delinquent child support payers to credit reporting agencies are to discourage noncustodial parents from not making their child support payments, to prevent the undeserved extension of credit, and to maintain the noncustodial parent's ability to pay his child support obligation. Other benefits include access by child support agencies to address, employment, and asset information.

The 1984 amendments require States to report overdue child support obligations exceeding $1,000 to consumer reporting agencies if such information is requested by the credit bureau. States have the option of reporting in cases in which the noncustodial parent is less than $1,000 in arrears. States must provide noncustodial parents with advance notice of intent to release information on their child support arrearage and an opportunity for them to contest the accuracy of the information. The child support agency may charge the credit bureau a fee for the information.

Public Law 102-537, the Ted Weiss Child Support Enforcement Act of 1992, amends the Fair Credit Reporting Act to require consumer credit reporting agencies to include in any consumer report information on child support delinquencies. The information is provided by or verified by State or local child support agencies. Public Law 103-432, enacted in October 1994, includes a provision that requires States to periodically report to consumer reporting agencies the name of parents owing at least 2 months of overdue child support, and the amount of the child support overdue.

 In order to facilitate the access of child support officials to credit information, the 1996 welfare reform legislation states that in response to a request by the head of a State or local CSE agency or other authorized official; consumer credit agencies must release information if the person making the request makes all of the following certifications: that the consumer report is needed to establish and individual's capacity to make child support payments or determine the level of payments; that paternity has been established or acknowledged; that the consumer has been given at least 10 days notice by certified or registered mail that the report is being requested; and that the consumer report will be kept confidential, will be used solely for child support purposes, and will not be used in connection with any other civil, administrative, or criminal proceeding or for any other purpose. Consumer reporting agencies also must give reports to a CSE agency for use in setting an initial or modified award. These provisions amend the Fair Credit Reporting Act.

 The 1996 law also requires States to periodically report to consumer reporting agencies the name of any noncustodial parent who is delinquent in the payment of support and the amount of past-due support owed by the parent. Before such a report can be sent, the obligor must have been afforded all due process rights, including notice and reasonable opportunity to contest the claim of child support delinquency. Enforcement against Federal employees

The 1975 child support legislation included a provision allowing garnishment of wages and other payments by the Federal Government for enforcement of child support and alimony obligations. The law also provided that moneys payable by the United States to any individual for employment are subject to legal proceedings brought for the enforcement of child support or alimony. The law sets forth in detail the procedures that must be followed for service of legal process and specifies that the term ``based upon remuneration for employment'' includes wages, periodic benefits for the payment of pensions, retirement pay including Social Security, and other kinds of Federal payments.

The 1996 welfare reform law substantially revised child support enforcement for Federal employees, including retirees and military personnel. As under prior law, Federal employees are subject to income withholding and other actions taken against them by State CSE agencies. However, every Federal agency is responsible for responding to a State CSE Program as if the Federal agency were a private business. The head of each Federal agency must designate an agent, whose name and address must be published annually in the Federal Register, to be responsible for handling child support cases. The agency must respond to withholding notices and other matters brought to its attention by CSE officials. Child support claims are given priority in the allocation of Federal employee income. Enforcement against military personnel

Child support enforcement workers face unique difficulties when working on cases in which the absent parent is an active duty member of the military service. Learning to work through military channels can prove both challenging and frustrating, especially if the child support agency is not near a military base. As a result, military cases are often ignored or not given sufficient attention (Office of Child Support, 1991).

Public Law 97-248, the Tax Equity and Fiscal Responsibility Act of 1982, requires allotments from the pay and allowances of any active duty member of the uniformed service who fails to make child or spousal support payments. This requirement arises when the service member fails to make support payments in an amount at least equal to the value of 2 months' worth of support. Provisions of the Federal Consumer Credit Protection Act apply, limiting the percentage of the member's pay that is subject to allotment. The amount of the allotment is the amount of the support payment, as established under a legally enforceable administrative or judicial order.

Since October 1, 1995, the Department of Defense has consolidated its garnishment operations at the Defense Finance and Accounting Service in Cleveland, Ohio. Support orders received by the Service are processed immediately and notices are sent to the appropriate military pay center to start payments in the first pay cycle (Office of Child Support, 1995c).

 As a result of the 1996 welfare reform law, the Secretary of Defense must establish a central personnel locator service, which must be updated on a regular basis, that permits location of every member of the Armed Services. The Secretary of each branch of the military service must grant leave to facilitate attendance at child support hearings and other child support proceedings. The Secretary of each branch also must withhold support from retirement pay and forward it to State disbursement units.Small business loans

The 103d Congress passed legislation, the Small Business Administration Reauthorization and Amendments Act of 1994 (Public Law 103-403), which included the requirement that recipients of financial assistance from the Small Business Administration, including direct loans and loan guarantees, must certify that the recipient is not more than 60 days delinquent in the payment of child support.Other provisions

On February 27, 1995, President Clinton signed an Executive order establishing the executive branch of the Federal Government, including its civilian employees and the uniformed services members, as a model employer in promoting and facilitating the establishment and enforcement of child support. The Executive order states that the Federal Government is the Nation's largest single employer and as such should set an example of leadership and encouragement in ensuring that all children are properly supported. Among other measures, the order requires the Federal agencies and the uniformed services to cooperate fully in efforts to establish paternity and child support orders and to enforce the collection of child and medical support. The order also requires Federal agencies to provide information to their personnel concerning the services that are available to them and to ensure that their children are provided the support to which they are legally entitled (Office of Child Support, 1995b).

 The 1996 welfare reform law requires States to implement expedited procedures that allow them to secure assets to satisfy arrearages by intercepting or seizing periodic or lump sum payments (such as unemployment and workers' compensation), lottery winnings, awards, judgments, or settlements. States must also have expedited procedures that allow them to seize assets of the debtor parent held by public or private retirement funds and financial institutions.

Interstate Enforcement

The most difficult child support orders to enforce are interstate cases. States are required to cooperate in interstate child support enforcement, but problems arise from the autonomy of local courts. Family law has traditionally been under the jurisdiction of State and local governments, and citizens fall under the jurisdiction of the courts where they live.

During the 1930s and 1940s, such laws were used to establish and enforce support obligations when the noncustodial parent, custodial parent, and child lived in the same State. But when noncustodial parents lived out of State, enforcing child support was cumbersome and ineffective. Often the only option in these cases was to extradite the noncustodial parent and, when successful, to jail the person for nonsupport. This procedure, rarely used, generally punished the irresponsible parent, but left the abandoned family without financial support.

A University of Michigan study (Hill, 1988) of separated parents found that 12 percent lived in different States 1 year after divorce or separation. That proportion increased to 25 percent after 3 years, and to 40 percent after 8 years. Estimates based on the Federal income tax refund offset and other sources suggest that approximately 30 percent of all child support cases involve interstate residency of the custodial and noncustodial parents (Weaver & Williams, 1989, p. 510). According to U.S. Census Bureau (1991) data, 20 percent of noncustodial parents lived in a different State than their children, 3 percent lived overseas, and the residence of 11 percent of the noncustodial parents was unknown.Uniform Reciprocal Enforcement of Support Act (URESA)

Starting in 1950, interstate cooperation was promoted through the adoption by the States of URESA. This act, which was first proposed by the National Conference of Commissioners on Uniform State Laws in 1950, has been enacted in all 50 States, the District of Columbia, Guam, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands. The act was amended in 1952 and 1958 and revised in 1968. Thus, even though every State has passed some provisions of URESA, many provisions vary from State to State. URESA, in short, is uniform in name only.

The purpose of URESA was to provide a system for the interstate enforcement of support orders without requiring the person seeking support to go (or have her legal representative go) to the State in which the noncustodial parent resided. Where the URESA provisions between the two States are compatible, the law can be used to establish paternity, locate an absent parent, and establish, modify, or enforce a support order across State lines. However, some observers note that the use of URESA procedures often resulted in lower orders for both current support and arrearages. They also contend that few child support agencies attempted to use URESA procedures to establish paternity or to obtain a modification in a support order.Long arm statutes

Unlike URESA, interstate cases established or enforced by long arm statutes use the court system in the State of the custodial parent rather than that of the noncustodial parent. When a person commits certain acts in a State of which he is not a resident, that person may be subjecting himself to the jurisdiction of that State. The long arm of the law of the State where the event occurs may reach out to grab the out-of-State person so that issues relating to the event may be resolved where it happened. Under the long arm procedure, the State must authorize by statute that the acts allegedly committed by the defendant are those that subject the defendant to the State's jurisdiction. An example is a paternity statute stating that if conception takes place in the State and the child lives in the State, the State may exercise jurisdiction over the alleged father even if he lives in another State. Long arm statute language usually extends the State's jurisdiction over an out-of-State defendant to the maximum extent permitted by the U.S. Constitution under the 14th amendment's due process clause. Long arm statutes may be used to establish paternity, establish support awards, and enforce support orders.Federal courts

The 1975 child support law mandated that the State plan for child support require States to cooperate with other States in establishing paternity, locating absent parents, and securing compliance with court orders. Further, it authorized the use of Federal courts as a last resort to enforce an existing order in another State if that State were uncooperative.

Section 460 of the Social Security Act provides that the district courts of the United States shall have jurisdiction, without regard to any amount in controversy, to hear and determine any civil action certified by the Secretary of DHHS under section 452(a)(8) of the act. A civil action under section 460 may be brought in any judicial district in which the claim arose, the plaintiff resides, or the defendant resides. Section 452(a)(8) states that the Secretary of DHHS shall receive applications from States for permission to use the courts of the United States to enforce court orders for support against noncustodial parents. The Secretary must approve applications if she finds both that a given State has not enforced a court order of another State within a reasonable time and that using the Federal courts is the only reasonable method of enforcing the order.

As a condition of obtaining certification from the Secretary, the child support agency of the initiating State must give the child support agency of the responding State at least 60 days to enforce the order as well as a 30-day warning of its intent to seek enforcement in Federal court. If the initiating State receives no response within the 30-day limit, or if the response is unsatisfactory, the initiating State may apply to the Office of Child Support Enforcement (OCSE) Regional Office for certification. The application must attest that all the requirements outlined above have been satisfied. Upon certification of the case, a civil action may be filed in the U.S. district court. Although this interstate enforcement procedure has been available since enactment of the child support program in 1975, there has only been one reported case of its use by a State (the initiating State was California; the responding State was Texas).Interstate income withholding

Interstate income withholding is a process by which the State of the custodial parent seeks the help of the State in which the noncustodial parent's income is earned to enforce a support order using the income withholding mechanism. Pursuant to the child support amendments of 1984, income withholding was authorized for all valid instate or out-of-State orders issued or modified after October 1, 1985, and for all orders being enforced by the IV-D program, regardless of the date the order was issued. Although Federal law requires a State to enforce another State's valid orders through interstate withholding, there is no Federal mandate that interstate income withholding procedures be uniform. Approaches vary from the Model Interstate Income Withholding Act to URESA registration. The preferred way to handle an interstate income withholding request is to use the interstate action transmittal form from one child support agency to another. In child support enforcement cases, Federal regulations required that by August 22, 1988, all interstate income withholding requests be sent to the enforcing State's central registry for referral to the appropriate State or local official. The actual wage withholding procedure used by the State in which the noncustodial parent lives is the same as that used in intrastate cases. In a 1992 report (U.S. General Accounting Office, 1992a, p. 4 & pp. 21-28), GAO indicated that the main reason for the failure of interstate income withholding was the lack of uniformity in its implementation.

The 1996 welfare law required the DHHS Secretary, in consultation with State CSE directors, to issue forms by October 1, 1996 that States must use for income withholding, for imposing liens, and for issuing administrative subpoenas in interstate cases. States were required to begin using the forms by March 1, 1997.Full faith and credit

One of the most significant barriers to improved interstate collections is that, because a child support order is not considered a final judgment, the full faith and credit clause of the U.S. Constitution does not preclude modification. Thus, the order is subject to modification upon a showing of changed circumstances by the issuing court or by another court with jurisdiction. Congress could prohibit inter- or intrastate modifications of child support orders, but many students of child support hold that a complete ban on modifications would be unrealistic and unfair. A more likely approach would be one under which States were required to give full faith and credit to each other's child support orders under most circumstances.

The Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1986, Public Law 99-509, took a step in this direction by requiring States to treat past due support obligations as final judgments entitled to full faith and credit in every State. Thus, a person who has a support order in one State does not have to obtain a second order in another State to obtain the money due should the debtor parent move from the issuing court's jurisdiction. The second State can modify the order prospectively if it finds that circumstances exist to justify a change, but the second State may not retroactively modify a child support order.

Public Law 103-383, the Full Faith and Credit for Child Support Orders Act of 1994, restricts a State court's ability to modify a child support order issued by another State unless the child and the custodial parent have moved to the State where the modification is sought or have agreed to the modification.

The full faith and credit rules of the 1996 welfare reform law clarify the definition of a child's home State, make several revisions to ensure that the rules can be applied consistently with the Uniform Interstate Family Support Act (UIFSA), and clarify the rules regarding which child support order States must honor when there is more than one order.Federal criminal penalties

The Child Support Recovery Act of 1992 imposed a Federal criminal penalty for the willful failure to pay a past due child support obligation to a child who resides in another State and that has remained unpaid for longer than a year or is greater than $5,000. For the first conviction, the penalty is a fine of up to $5,000, imprisonment for not more than 6 months, or both; for a second conviction, the penalty is a fine of not more than $250,000, imprisonment for up to 2 years, or both.

 In response to concerns of law enforcement officials and prosecutors that the 1992 law did not adequately address more serious instances of nonpayment of child support obligations, Congress passed the Deadbeat Parents Punishment Act of 1998 (Public Law 105-187). The law establishes two new categories of felony offenses, subject to a 2-year maximum prison term. The offenses are: (1) traveling in interstate or foreign commerce with the intent to evade a support obligation if the obligation has remained unpaid for more than 1 year or is greater than $5,000; and (2) willfully failing to pay a child support obligation regarding a child residing in another State if the obligation has remained unpaid for more than 2 years or is greater than $10,000. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), the administration's criminal child support enforcement initiative, ``Project Save Our Children,'' has investigated 800 cases resulting in 275 arrests, 210 convictions, and the payment of $5.3 million in past-due child support payments. The initiative is conducted by officials from the DHHS Office of Inspector General, the OCSE, the Department of Justice, State CSE agencies, and local law enforcement organizations working together to pursue chronic delinquent parents who owe large sums of child support.Uniform Interstate Family Support Act (UIFSA)

 UIFSA was drafted by the National Conference of Commissioners on Uniform State Laws and approved by the Commissioners in August 1992. It is designed to deal with desertion and nonsupport by instituting uniform laws in all 50 States and the District of Columbia. The core of UIFSA is limiting control of a child support case to a single State, thereby ensuring that only one child support order from one court or child support agency is in effect at any given time. It follows that the controlling State will be able to effectively pursue interstate cases, primarily through the use of long arm statutes, because its jurisdiction is undisputed. Many, perhaps most, child support officials believe UIFSA will help eliminate jurisdictional disputes between States and lead to substantial increases in interstate collections.

UIFSA allows: (1) direct income withholding by the controlling State without second State involvement; (2) administrative enforcement without registration; and (3) registered enforcement based on the substantive laws of the controlling State and the procedural laws of the registering State. The order cannot be adjusted if only enforcement is requested, and enforcement may begin upon registration (before notice and hearing) if the receiving State's due process rules allow such enforcement. The controlling State may adjust the support order under its own standards. In addition, UIFSA includes some uniform evidentiary rules to make interstate case handling easier, such as using telephonic hearings, easing admissibility of evidence requirements, and admitting petitions into evidence without the need for live or corroborative testimony to make a prima facie case.

 The 1996 welfare reform law required all States to enact UIFSA, including all amendments, before January 1, 1998. States are not required to use UIFSA in all cases if they determine that using other interstate procedures would be more effective. As of February 1998, all States and jurisdictions had adopted UIFSA, except Guam, Kentucky, New Jersey, and the Virgin Islands.Other procedures that aid interstate enforcement

In 1948, the National Conference of Commissioners on Uniform State Laws and the American Bar Association approved the Uniform Enforcement of Foreign Judgments Act (UEFJA), which simplifies the collection of child support arrearages in interstate cases. Revised in 1964 and adopted in only 30 States, UEFJA provides that upon the filing of an authenticated foreign (i.e., out-of-State) judgment and notice to the obligor, the judgment is to be treated in the same manner as a local one. A judgment is the official decision or finding of a court on the respective rights of the involved parties. UEFJA applies only to final judgments. As a general rule, child support arrearages that have been reduced to judgment are considered final judgments and thus can be filed under UEFJA. An advantage of UEFJA is that it does not require reciprocity (i.e., it need only be in effect in the initiating State). A disadvantage is that UEFJA is limited to collection of arrearages; it cannot be used to establish an initial order or to enforce current orders.

In fiscal year 1997, there were 2.4 million interstate cases in which collections were sent to or received from other States. This represents a 60 percent increase over the 1.5 million interstate cases that yielded a payment in fiscal year 1990. Similarly, in fiscal year 1997, $1.824 billion was collected for interstate cases, up from $825 million (21 percent) in fiscal year 1990.Expedited procedures and the financial institution data match program

Regardless of whether a State uses judicial processes, administrative processes, or a combination, the 1996 welfare reform law required States to adopt a series of procedures to expedite both the establishment of paternity and the establishment, enforcement, and modification of child support. These procedures must give the State CSE agency the authority to take several enforcement actions, subject to due process safeguards, without the necessity of obtaining an order from any other judicial or administrative tribunal. For example, States must have expedited procedures to secure assets to satisfy an arrearage by intercepting or seizing periodic or lump sum payments (such as unemployment and workers' compensation), lottery winnings, awards, judgments, or settlements, and assets of the debtor parent held by public or private retirement funds and financial institutions.

The 1996 law also required States to enter into agreements with financial institutions conducting business within their State for the purpose of conducting a quarterly data match. The data match is intended to identify financial accounts (in banks, credit unions, money-market mutual funds, etc.) belonging to parents who are delinquent in the payment of their child support obligation. When a match is identified, State CSE agencies may issue liens or levies on the account(s) of the delinquent parent to collect the past-due child support. In 1998, Congress made it easier for multistate financial institutions to match records by permitting the Federal Parent Locator Service (FPLS) to help them coordinate their information. According to DHHS, 662,000 financial accounts with a value of about $1 billion have been matched since August 1999. States are using their expedited procedures to seize the accounts and thereby force debtor noncustodial parents to meet their child support obligations.Summary information on collection methods

Table 8-3 shows that 65 percent of the $14.3 billion in child support payments collected in fiscal year 1998 was obtained through four enforcement techniques: wage withholding, Federal income tax refund offset, State income tax refund offset, and unemployment compensation intercept. The remaining 35 percent is listed as collected by ``other'' means. The ``other'' category includes collections from parents who have informal agreements, collections from noncustodial parents who voluntarily sent money for their children even though a support order had never been established (about 4 percent of all collections), and enforcement techniques such as liens against property, license and passport revocation, seizure of assets from financial institutions, posting of bonds or securities, and use of the full IRS collection procedure. By fiscal year 1991 wage withholding had become the primary enforcement method, producing nearly 47 percent of all child support collections. By 1998, the percentage had increased even further, reaching 56 percent.

Private Collection Activities

According to the OCSE, the Child Support Enforcement Program handles about 50 percent of all child support cases. The rest are handled by private attorneys, private collection agencies, locally-funded public child support enforcement agencies, or through mutual agreements between the parents.

Nonfederal CSE activities.--Some localities have taken it upon themselves to operate a child support program using local funding sources and fees levied against noncustodial parents. A major complaint of these localities is that the enforcement tools (e.g., Federal and State tax refund intercepts, license sanctions, passport sanctions, data matches with financial institutions, reporting of delinquencies to credit bureaus) that are now available only to the Federal/State CSE Program should be extended to the entities working outside the Federal/State system and to private contractors as well. However, State child support agencies, advocates representing both noncustodial and custodial parents, and privacy rights organizations have voiced concerns about such an approach, particularly as it relates to private agencies.

CSE privatization.--While doing business with public and private sector entities outside the CSE Program for such things as laboratory testing for paternity establishment, service of process, and automated systems development is not new in the CSE Program, contracting out all of the program's functions is new. This approach is usually referred to as privatization.

According to a December 1996 U.S. General Accounting Office report, 15 States had turned to full-service privatization of selected local CSE offices as a way to improve performance that had been hampered by growing caseloads, resource constraints, and increased Federal requirements. For some localities, privatization is also a response to State restrictions on hiring additional public employees.

In many more States, the State or locality had a contract with a private entity to perform one or several services to supplement the efforts of the State or local program. Most commonly, States contract with the private sector for the collection of past-due support, especially support considered hard to collect. Under the terms of most collection contracts, States pay contractors only if collections are made and payments to contractors are often a fixed percentage of the recovered arrearage payments.


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