If you have children and are recently divorced, going though a divorce, or even thinking about getting divorced, you need to be aware of a new law that may significantly affect you. Signed into law by President Clinton on August 22, 1996, the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Act contains the most sweeping child support enforcement measures in history -- measures that could, over the next 10 years, increase child support collections by $24-billion.
I was privileged to be present when President Clinton signed this historic bill. Referring to the duty of parents to meet their obligations to their children, he said, "There is no area where we need more personal responsibility than in child support." New requirements and new resources for the program will make it more difficult for parents to evade responsibility for their children.
The magnitude of non-support of children is indicated by recent census bureau data, which revealed that 11.5 million families with children had a parent living out of the home. And of this group, only 6.2 million (54 percent) had awards or agreements for child support. Further, of the total $17.7-billion owed for child support, $5.8-billion was not paid. Among those due support, receipt of payment was inconsistent, with about half receiving the full amount, about a quarter receiving partial payments, and about a quarter receiving nothing.
The new law includes:
As parents and caring citizens, we must always remember that the support of children is our first priority. I have placed a banner over the door to my office that reads "Children First." The child support enforcement requirements of welfare reform will help parents, whether they're living together or separately, keep that message uppermost in their minds.
For more information on child support enforcement or a free booklet from the Federal Office of Child Support Enforcement, contact the National Reference Center at (202) 401-9383.
David Gray Ross is Deputy Director and operating head of the Federal Office of Child Support Enforcement. Before assuming this position, he spent many years as a Judge of the Circuit Court of Prince Georges' County, Maryland, where he directed the Family Law Division.