Claudette-Jean Girard, Attorney at Law
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Family Law Attorney

I provide experienced legal guidance in family law, divorce and special education law. I represent parents and families throughout western Massachusetts.

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What are the federal child support enforcement laws?

According to the existing legal system, child support enforcement is a responsibility of the particular state. That means that most matters pertaining to child support in Massachusetts are under the jurisdiction of the Massachusetts courts. Child support enforcement tasks are carried out by Title IV-D agencies according to federal laws. However, in certain exceptional cases, federal laws may also apply. Those federal laws are mainly related to child support enforcement, especially in those cases where the amount of child support that the parent owes is a fairly large amount.

The first federal law pertaining to child support enforcement was the Child Support Recovery Act of 1992. The purpose of the act was to ensure that non-custodial parents pay child support on time. If the parent fails to do so, that person will face prosecution. The act was successful to a great extent but various law enforcement agencies believe that a misdemeanor charge may be enough to deter the violator of a child support order. To address this concern, the Deadbeat Parents Punishment Act was passed in 1998. This act made it possible for law enforcement agencies to file felony charges in cases where unpaid child support was very large.

According to existing laws, as stated in Section 228 Title 18 of the United States Code, willful non-payment of child support is an offense. According to that law, a non-custodial parent who does not pay child support for a child who is in another state for a period of one year or more and whose outstanding child support obligations amount to more than $5,000 can be charged with a misdemeanor, which can lead to a prison sentence of up to six months.

Under the same circumstances, if a non-custodial parent does not pay child support for a period of two years or if the unpaid child support amount is over $10,000, according to federal law, it is considered a felony, which can lead to a prison sentence of up to two years. The federal law also makes it illegal for the supporting parent to cross state or international borders if the outstanding child support obligation is greater than $5,000 or if the outstanding amount is for a period of more than one year. Non-custodial parents who are convicted of that particular offense may face a prison sentence of up to two years.

Source: United States Department of Justice, "Citizen's Guide to U.S. Federal Law on Child Support Enforcement," Accessed on March 12, 2015

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