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:
- Establishment of a national new hire reporting system to track non-custodial parents owing child support arrearages across state lines — interstate cases make up one-third of States’ caseloads;
- Establishment of State central registries of child support orders and centralized collection/disbursement units to enable cross matches of locate and employment information to be made quickly and sent to all States that have an interest in the case;
- Creation of a streamlined system for establishing paternity with a voluntary in-hospital paternity establishment and State-level programs to eliminate court appearances;
- Adoption of a new interstate model act called the Uniform Interstate Family Support Act (UIFSA) to ease problems with interstate enforcement. The core of UIFSA is that it limits control of a child support case to a single state, ensuring that only one child support order from one court or child support enforcement agency will be in effect at any given time;
- Adoption of tough new penalties to allow revocation of drivers and professional licenses, and, in some cases, a requirement of community service; and
- Grants to help states establish program to support and facilitate non-custodial parents’ visitation and access to their children. The legislation provides up to $10-million annually for this purpose.
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.