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Why and when child support orders are enforced by the feds

When a couple divorces with minor children and one parent is given custody, the other parent is generally required to pay support to cover the children's basic living expenses. Child support orders and their enforcement are state matters, whether in Minnesota or Nevada. The federal government has limited jurisdiction over the enforcement of state child support laws and orders.

In all states there is an agency that is responsible for collecting child support. These agencies are referred to as Title IV-D agencies, named after a provision of federal law that details state responsibilities for collecting child support. These enforcement agencies provide enforcement of support orders to those who ask for them. The passage of the federal Child Support Recovery Act in 1992 also made it possible to punish the very worst offenders under federal law. Because state efforts at enforcement failed to affect those particular offenders, the Deadbeat Parents Punishment Act, which was passed by Congress in 1998, created new felony crimes under federal law that imposed more severe punishments on the worst scofflaws.

As a result, in every state, nonpayment of child support is punishable not only under state law, but also under the U.S. Code, Title 18, Section 228. Even if the child of the child support payor lives in another state, the person's obligation to pay remains until a court orders otherwise. The person can face a criminal misdemeanor charge if the amount of support owed is more than $5,000 or he or she has not paid for more than a year.

The crime of nonpayment of support is considered a felony if the support has not been paid for two years or exceeds the sum of $10,000. In addition, if a person flees or tries to flee the country and has at least one year of unpaid child support in excess of $5,000, then he or she may face up to two years in prison.

Source: The United States Department of Justice, "Child Support Enforcement," accessed on Dec.10, 2014

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