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What do federal child-support enforcement laws cover?

For the vast majority of divorces involving minor children, child support from the noncustodial parent is necessary to cover the expenses of raising a child, including education, health care and various everyday expenses. Too many custodial parents across the country, including many in California, face financial difficulties when court-ordered child support payments are not made on time. To address this concern and to bolster state efforts to ensure support collection, federal laws address the most serious cases of nonpayment.

What did the first federal child-support laws cover? The first federal law addressing enforcement, the Child Support Recovery Act of 1992, mandated misdemeanor charges for some noncustodial parents who missed support payments. Inadequacies in the act led to the Deadbeat Parents Punishment Act of 1998, which provided felony charges for certain delinquency cases.

Federal misdemeanor charges can be filed against noncustodial parents who do not pay child support for children in other states, if outstanding support exceeds $5,000 or if a delinquency lasts more than one year. Conviction can mean a prison sentence of up to six months.

On the other hand, federal felony charges can be filed against noncustodial parents who are in arrears for two or more years or when the outstanding amounts are more than $10,000. A two year prison sentence can be imposed if the parent is convicted.

Both the CSRA and the DPPA also make it illegal for a noncustodial parent to cross state lines or an international border if the intention is to avoid paying child support at all, if the outstanding amount is more than $5,000 or if child-support payments are more than one year overdue. Convictions for these charges can bring the noncustodial parent 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 April 8, 2015

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