The law is generally not very kind to people that fail to pay their child support. Child support is usually ordered at the time of divorce (or birth for an unmarried couple) and enforced by each state, but the federal government has a few mechanisms to help parents receive the support they are entitled to.
Federal Office of Child Support Enforcement
The U.S. Department of Health & Human Services has an office dedicated to child support enforcement. The office partners with federal, state, tribal, and local governments to promote parental responsibility.
Some of this programming is positive, giving low-income fathers the assistance they need to meet their child support obligations, for example. Other parts of the office’s programming are more harsh, helping to force parents to pay for their children’s’ care.
The office is needed precisely because of the risk of nonpayment that is caused by parents moving around. Family law is primarily a state matter, so when a parent refuses to pay child support it is largely the state government that will act to force payment. The problem is, if a parent that owes child support moves away it can be very difficult for a state government to help. That is why some level of federal oversight is needed. The federal program can help track parents across state and international boundaries and can work with one state to enforce another state’s child support orders.
Nonpayment could cost a passport
One of the most effective tools for the federal Office of Child Support Enforcement is that they can have an impact on unpaid child support and in getting a U.S. passport. The agency’s Passport Denial Program collects records from the states on all parents that have more than $2,500 in unpaid child support (arrearages). This list is then forwarded to the U.S. Department of State, which issues U.S. passports.
This program grew out of a long list of federal efforts to be unfriendly to parents that owe unpaid child support. For example, the Department of Treasury will take unpaid child support from income tax refunds and the Social Security Administration can also take some benefits for unpaid child support.
The passport restriction is important because it can help prevent parents from fleeing to avoid their obligations. More commonly, it just roadblocks that prevents people from carrying on without paying their child support. For example, if a parent with unpaid obligations is taking a business trip and needs a passport then certainly having his or her passport denied should cause those obligations to get paid.
Call the state if your passport is denied
If your passport request has been denied over child support obligations, you must contact the appropriate state agency in order to resolve the issue. The state (or states) that put your name into the program have to take you back. It is also important to note that if you settle up your unpaid support directly with the other parent you must still make sure the state is properly notified so your name can be taken off the State Department list.