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What Is the Deadbeat Parents Punishment Act?
In addition to remedies that are available at the state level, such as garnishment of wages and state tax offset programs, the Deadbeat Parents Punishment Act creates a federal criminal cause of action for parents who refuse to make court-ordered child support payments.
This federal act was signed into law in 1998 by then-President Bill Clinton. After Clinton passed the act into law, he publicly stated that a central reason why many single mothers have to rely on welfare programs is because the fathers of their children have failed in their responsibilities to support their children. He said that the act was established so that children could have a higher quality of life.
At the time that the law was passed, the Department of Health and Human Services reported that at least one million parents were delinquent in their payments. Collections in 1997 of child support soared to $13.4 billion, up from $8 billion in 1992.
The act was spearheaded by a group of Republican and Democratic members of the House of Congress. It passed both chambers of Congress with overwhelming support.
The Deadbeat Parents Punishment Act made it a federal crime for a parent who willfully failed to make child support payments by traveling or moving to another state to avoid making these payments. A parent can be charged with this crime if he or she meets the criteria above and either failed to make support payments for more than a year or that amounted to more than $5,000.
The act provided broad jurisdictional limits for the filing of such a case. It can be filed where the noncustodial parent lived, where the child lives, the state where the child did not receive child support or any other federal court.
Parents who are behind for more than a year or who owe more than $5,000 in back child support can be charged with a misdemeanor. This carries a possible imprisonment up to six months. The punishment increases to a felony if the amount owed is more than $10,000 or the parent is behind on payments for more than two years. Under this scenario, the parent can be imprisoned for up to two years. Punishments also increase for repeat offenses.
In addition to imprisonment, parents may also be required to pay a fine. They will also be subject to mandatory restitution in which they must pay back the amount that they owe at the time of sentencing.
The act includes the mens rea of “intentionally” in it, meaning that it must be shown that the parent intentionally chose to not make child support payments. While there is a presumption that if there is a child support order that the parent had the ability to pay, the parent may be able to rebut this presumption. For example, a parent may have been adversely affected by illness, job loss or other circumstances that significantly impeded his or her ability to make payments. Additionally, the prosecution must show that the parent traveled or moved to another state in order to avoid his or her obligation. If the move or travel was due to another reason, this may be a defense to conviction of the crime.
The United State’s Attorney’s office generally is responsible for the prosecution of these cases. The prosecutor on the case may take additional steps to help resolve cases before they go to trial, such as sending the noncustodial parent letters demanding that he or she pay the support that is owed.
The Deadbeat Parents Punishment Act is only one of many avenues that can help force a parent who is not paying child support to pay. Due to its specific requirements, a family law lawyer may make suggestions about pursuing other methods to secure payment. This may include having the noncustodial parent’s wages garnished through an automatic income withholding, which is encompassed within state law.
Other enforcement options that may be available include having the noncustodial parent’s tax refunds intercepted, securing a lien on his or her property, having the noncustodial parent’s driver’s or professional license suspended or pursuing a contempt of court case. A family law lawyer may discuss options that are available, given the particular circumstances of a case.
Disclaimer: While every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of this publication, it is not intended to provide legal advice as individual situations will differ and should be discussed with an expert and/or lawyer. For specific technical or legal advice on the information provided and related topics, please contact the author..