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Child support is one of the most critical and divisive issues among divorced parents. Particularly during these difficult economic times, child support can be a huge financial burden even for parents who love and cherish their children. It is well settled law throughout the United States that both parents are obligated to provide for their children. Every state has a slightly different method for calculating child support. In some states child support is calculated on a case by case basis decided by the judge. In other states there are guidelines, worksheets, and formulas that must be strictly applied.
The federal law that is used to enforce child support is called the Uniform Interstate Family Support Act (UIFSA). This is often referred to as a long arm statute, where one state can enforce a court order in another jurisdiction. For example, if a child support order is entered in Florida, it can be enforced in Georgia or any other state through UIFSA. Under the federal law, each state is required to recognize another state's child support order. It isn't necessary to formally transfer jurisdiction of the family law case to the other state for the other state to enforce it. However, in order to modify child support a state must accept Continuing Exclusive Jurisdiction (CEJ). The CEJ usually follows the child's residency. The state that will accept jurisdiction is usually the state where the child has resided for at least six months immediately prior to filing the petition to modify child support.
Different states have different methods of enforcement. Among others, sanctions and enforcement methods may include: income tax refund capture; bank account levy; driver's license suspension; and passport denial or revocation. In many parts of the United States, loss of liberty is a very real possibility for anyone who refuses to pay child support. A finding of civil contempt can land a non-payor in jail until he or she comes up with at least a portion of child support arrears. This portion is often called a “purge” and is often 25% of the total amount owed, but can be any amount a judge decides is required.
In addition to state remedies for refusal to pay child support there is also a federal remedy. According to this federal law, failure to pay child support, if willful, is a crime when the parent owing support lives in a different state than the parent who is supposed to receive the support. The purpose of the Federal Child Support Recovery Act was to prevent a parent from moving to a different state or a foreign jurisdiction to avoid paying child support.
The penalties available for child support enforcement under the Child Support Recovery Act include prison sentences, fines and restitution. A first offense under the Federal Child Support Recovery Act can result in a prison sentence of up to six months plus fines. A second conviction can result in more jail time and greater fines. Probation can be imposed and can include conditions such as the payment of child support and mandatory employment. A violation of those probation conditions can result in additional prison time.
published by the Department of Human Services Administration for Children and Families Office of Child Support Enforcement.
It is easy to accept that as a matter of public policy, parents should support their children. But what if a parent is ordered to pay child support, but is not able to pay? And, even though child visitation and child support is supposed to be separate, what if the parent obligated to pay support is prevented from seeing the child? Do the penalties for nonpayment do anything to help the children in the long run? How does putting daddy or mommy in jail help? What about the unwed father who never wanted to have the child to begin with? Or worse, what about the unwed father who never knew he even was a father until he was served with a complaint for child support?
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