The Child Support Recovery Act (CSRA), often referred to as the "deadbeat-dad" (deadbeat parent) law, makes it a federal crime to flee a state in order to avoid having to pay a child support arrearage. The CSRA does not apply to every child support case. Rather, the CSRA is only invoked when a parent has willfully failed to pay child support resulting in an unpaid child support balance that exceeds five thousand dollars ($5,000.00) or that has not been paid in more than one (1) year.
When a case is being considered for referral to the U.S. Department of Justice, it must be evaluated to ensure that it meets all of the required elements of the CSRA. First, the non-custodial parent (NCP), or the parent who owes child support, must have the ability to pay. This does not mean that the NCP must be able to pay the entire arrearage. If the NCP can pay any amount towards the support obligation, their failure to do so is usually sufficient to meet the ability to pay requirement.
Second, the NCP must have willfully failed to pay his or her child support obligation. This means that he or she knew of the child support obligation and intentionally failed to pay. In order to show that the NCP knew of the support obligation, he or she must have been properly served the order for support. There should also be documentation available in the form of letters, notices, telephone calls and even contempt proceedings to demonstrate that the NCP does not intend to pay the obligation.
Third, the past due child support obligation must be greater than five thousand dollars ($5,000.00), or must have remained unpaid for more than one (1) year, and the NCP must reside in a different state than the child.
In addition to ensuring that the case meets the requirements of the CSRA, there are other factors that need to be considered before a case is referred for federal prosecution. These factors include the following:
- Are there any non-federal criminal or civil remedies available that provide an adequate means to collect the child support owed?
- Is there sufficient evidence available in order to obtain a conviction?
- Does the NCP have the ability to pay toward the child support obligation?
- Is there a pattern of repeated flight from state to state to avoid either the payment of child support or service of the child support order?
- Is there a pattern of deception to avoid payment? This would include concealing assets or frequently changing employment.
- Is there a failure to pay the arrearage even after a finding of contempt of court?
If, after evaluation, a case is referred for federal prosecution and the NCP is found guilty, then the penalties can be serious. For a first time offender, the failure to pay a child support obligation is a misdemeanor punishable by up to six (6) months in prison. Subsequent violations may include a sentence of up to two (2) years in prison. The CSRA also requires an order of restitution for the amount of child support owed at the time the NCP is sentenced and all orders for probation must require that the NCP comply with any current child support obligations.
Both federal and state governments take the obligation to pay child support very seriously. Any parent involved in a child support dispute should consult a family law attorney to explain their rights and duties under all of the applicable child support laws.