The History Of Child Support

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In the Beginning

America inherited many English laws and these laws found that the father had only a "moral duty" to support his children. This "moral duty" was for the most part not enforceable. England’s laws did allow for a limited recovery of support costs but only in certain circumstances.

The courts in America that were dealing with the cases of divorce and separation in the early 1800s found that the current laws did not provide for Child Support.

Despite the absence of a Child Support provision within English laws, the American Courts slowly began to tackle the notion that a father had a legal obligation to financialy support his children.

In 1808 the Supreme Court of Connecticut allowed Eunice Stanton to recover support from her first husband on behalf of her deceased second husband, Joshua. The court clearly stated that the children’s father was legally bound “to protect, educate, and maintain their legitimate children.”

This theme of financial dependency recurred in almost every Child Support case decided by American Courts during the nineteenth century, mostly because newly divorced mothers in nineteenth-century America were almost always living in poverty.

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After the obligation to financially provide for children was legally established, there were many early Child Support claims brought about by third parties who had provided support to impoverished single mothers and their children and who were willing to recover these costs from the non-supporting father.

As the concept of Child Support evolved after the 1850s, the courts began to use a two part “test” to determine the basis for reimbursement.
  1. Were the items provided by the plaintiff necessities that provided for the bare subsistence of the children, such as clothing and food?
  2. Had the father actually been negligent in providing those items himself?
Eventually American courts allowed newly divorced women to recover costs directly from their co parent for money they spent in supporting their children. These mothers had to prove that the fathers had failed to support their own children. Divorced women also had to show proof that their ex husband was at fault for the divorce.

The foundation for the Michigan Child Support System involves a partnership between the judicial and the executive branches of government that acts on behalf of the child. In 1917 with the establishment of Friend of the Court (FOC) offices within the circuit courts of all Michgian counties. The Michigan FOCs have two primary responsibilities:
  1. They collect individual child-support payments (that is, payments made directly by the parent as opposed to payments withheld from wages) and distribute court-ordered child-support payments
  2. They enforce court-ordered custody, parenting time, and financial support
By the end of the nineteenth century, almost every state in America had a statute that legally obligated a father to support his children.

At this point in time slavery was prevalent and did not allow for the legal marriage of blacks. Under slavery, black children did not have a legal father, therefore there was no way that a black mother could seek compensation from her children’s father.

1950 - 1959

Congress passed the first Federal Child Support enforcement legislation requiring State welfare agencies to notify appropriate law enforcement officials upon providing Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) with respect to a child who was abandoned or deserted by a parent.

The National Conference of Commissioners on Uniform State Laws and the American Bar Association approved the Uniform Reciprocal Enforcement of Support Act (URESA).

The intent of URESA was to provide a system for the interstate enforcement of Child Support orders without requiring the person seeking support to go (or have his/her legal representative go) to the State in which the noncustodial parent resided.

The URESA could be used to establish paternity, locate an absent parent, and establish, modify, or enforce a support order across State lines.

1960 - 1969

The Social Security Amendments of 1965 permited State and local welfare agencies to obtain the address and place of employment of a noncustodial parent who owes Child Support under a court order for support from the Secretary of Health, Education and Welfare.

In 1967 Social Security Amendments enabled States to obtain from the Internal Revenue Service the addresses of noncustodial parents who owe Child Support under a court order for support. In addition, each State was required to establish a single organizational unit to establish paternity and collect Child Support for deserted children receiving AFDC. States were required to work cooperatively with each other under Child Support reciprocity agreements and with courts and law enforcement officials.

1970 - 1979

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In 1974 title IV-D of the Social Security Act was created.

Title IV-D:
  • Reduced public expenditures on welfare by obtaining Child Support from non-custodial parents on an ongoing basis
  • Established paternity for children born outside marriage so Child Support could be obtained for them
  • Helped non-AFDC families get support so they could stay off public assistance
  • Mandated that the States plan for Child Support
  • Required States to cooperate with other States in establishing paternity, locating absent parents, and securing compliance with court orders
The Child Support and Establishment of Paternity Program was then designed for cost recovery of state and federal outlays on public assistance and for cost avoidance to help families leave welfare and to help families avoid turning to public assistance.

This statute, as amended, authorizes Federal matching funds to be used for enforcing support obligations by locating non custodial parents, establishing paternity, establishing Child Support awards, and collecting Child Support payments. This established the basis of the Child Suport Enforcment System (CSES).

It required every State to establish a CSES. States had to establish special agencies for the collection of Child Support payments due to recipients of AFDC who were required to sign over to the state claims to Child Support as a condition of eligibility. States were required to offer similar services to non-AFDC cases if requested.

Under Title IV-D the Secretary of Health, Education and Welfare, now the Secretary of Health and Human Services, is required to establish a separate organizational unit to oversee the operation of the Child Support Enforcement (CSE) program.

Responsibilities include:
  • Establishing a parent locator service
  • Establishing standards for State program organization, staffing, and operation to ensure an effective program
  • Reviewing and approving State plans for the program
  • Evaluating State program operations by conducting audits of each State's program
  • Certifying cases for referral to the Federal courts to enforce support obligations
  • Certifying cases for referral to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) for support collections
  • Providing technical assistance to States and assisting them with reporting procedures
  • Maintaining records of program operations, expenditures, and collections
  • Submitting an annual report to Congress
Primary responsibility for operating the CSE program is placed on the States. Each State must have an approved State plan indicating that:
  • The State has designated a single and separate organizational unit to administer the program
  • The State will establish paternity and secure support for individuals receiving AFDC and for others who apply directly for CSE services
  • Child Support payments will be made to the State for distribution
  • The State will enter into cooperative agreements with appropriate courts and law enforcement officials
  • The State will establish a State Parent Locator Service (SPLS) that uses State and local parent location resources as well as the Federal Parent Locator Service (FPLS)
  • The State will cooperate with any other State in locating an absent parent, establishing paternity, and securing support
  • The State will maintain a full record of collections and disbursements made under the plan.
States are to be paid incentives for collections made in AFDC cases.

The Tax Reduction and Simplification Act of 1977 amended Title IV-D provisions relating to garnishment of a Federal employee's wages for Child Support were as follows:
  • Include employees of the District of Columbia
  • Specify the conditions and procedures to be followed to serve garnishments on Federal agencies
  • Authorize issuance of garnishment regulations by the three branches of the Federal Government and by the District of Columbia
  • define further certain terms used
The Medicare-Medicaid Anti-Fraud and Abuse Amendments of 1977 established a medical support enforcement program under which States could require Medicaid applicants to assign to the State their rights to medical support.

1980 - 1989

The Social Security Disability Amendments of 1980 increased Federal matching funds to 90 percent for the costs of developing, implementing, and enhancing approved automated Child Support management information systems. Federal matching funds were also made available for Child Support enforcement duties performed by certain court personnel. In another provision, the law authorized the use of the IRS to collect Child Support arrearages on behalf of non-AFDC families. Finally, the law provided State and local CSE agencies with access to wage information held by the Social Security Administration and State employment security agencies (SESAs) for use in establishing and enforcing Child Support obligations.

The Adoption Assistance and Child Welfare Act of 1980 contained the following four amendments to Title IV-D:
  • FFP for non-AFDC services was made available on a permanent basis
  • States became eligible to receive incentive payments on all AFDC collections as well as interstate collections
  • States were required to claim reimbursement for expenditures within 2 years, with some exceptions
The Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1981 added the following five amendments to Title IV-D:
  • The IRS was authorized to withhold all, or part of, certain individuals' Federal income tax refunds for collection of delinquent Child Support obligations
  • CSE agencies were required to collect spousal support for AFDC families
  • For non-AFDC cases, State agencies were required to collect fees from noncustodial parents who were delinquent in their Child Support payments. Child Support obligations, which were assigned to the State, no longer were dischargeable in bankruptcy proceedings
  • States were authorized to withhold a portion of unemployment benefits from noncustodial parents delinquent in their support payments
The provisions of the Family Support Act of 1988 made the following changes to the CSE program:
  • For IV-D cases, States were to provide for immediate wage withholding unless one of the parties demonstrates and the court finds that there is good cause not to require it or there is a written agreement between both parties for an alternative arrangement
  • In non-IV-D cases, immediate wage withholding was to apply to all orders
  • The disregard of Child Support was to be applied to a payment made by a non-custodial parent in the month it was due even though it was received in a subsequent month.
  • Judges and other officials were required to use State guidelines for support awards, unless the decision-maker entered a written finding that applying the guidelines would be unjust or inappropriate in the case. States were to review their guidelines every 4 years
  • Beginning 2 years after enactment, if a State determined, under its plan for review and adjustment of orders, that an order being enforced under the program should be reviewed, the State must, at the request of either parent or of the CSE agency, initiate a review of the order and adjust it, if appropriate
  • Beginning 5 years after enactment, States were to begin to review and adjust individual case awards every 3 years in AFDC cases, unless it is not in the best interests of the child and neither parent has requested review.
  • States were to inform families receiving AFDC of the amount of support collected on their behalf on a monthly basis, rather than annually as previously required. States could provide quarterly notice if the Secretary of HHS determines that monthly reporting imposes an unreasonable administrative burden
  • States were required to meet Federal standards for establishing paternity beginning in FY92
  • States had to require all parties in a contested paternity case to take a genetic test at the request of any party.
  • The Secretary of HHS was required to issue regulations establishing time standards that States must meet in responding to requests for establishing and enforcing support orders, locating absent parents, establishing paternity, and collecting support. The standards must include time limits governing distribution of amounts collected as Child Support under the CSE State plan

1990 - 1999

The Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1990 permanently extended the provision allowing States to ask the IRS to collect Child Support arrearages of at least $ 500 out-of-income tax refunds otherwise due to non-custodial parents in non-AFDC cases.

The Child Support Recovery Act of 1992, imposed a Federal criminal penalty for the willful failure to pay a past-due Child Support obligation, with respect to a child who resides in another State, that has remained unpaid for longer than a year or is greater than $5,000. For the first conviction, the penalty was to be a fine of up to $5,000 and/or imprisonment for not more than 6 months; for a second conviction, a fine of not more than $250,000 and/or imprisonment for up to 2 years was to be imposed.

The Ted Weiss Child Support Enforcement Act of 1992, amended the Fair Credit Reporting Act to require consumer credit reporting agencies to include, in any consumer report, information on Child Support delinquencies provided by, or verified by, State or local CSE agencies, which antedates the report by 7 years.

The Bankruptcy Reform Act of 1994, protected Child Support from being discharged in bankruptcy.

The Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996 (PRWORA) contained strong work requirements, a performance bonus to reward States for moving welfare recipients into jobs, State maintenance of effort requirements, comprehensive Child Support enforcement provisions, and supports for families moving from welfare to work. Each State was to operate a CSE program meeting Federal requirements to be eligible for Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) block grants. Provisions included:
  • Established a Federal Case Registry of Child Support Orders (FCR) and a National Directory of New Hires (NDNH) to track delinquent parents across State lines
  • Streamlined the legal process for establishing paternity, making it easier and faster to establish paternities.
  • Provided for uniform rules, procedures, and forms for interstate cases
  • Required States to establish central registries of Child Support orders as well as centralized collection and disbursement units.
  • Expanded wage garnishment, allowed all States to seize assets, permitted States to require community service as a penalty in some cases, and enabled States to revoke drivers’ and professional licenses for parents who owe delinquent Child Support
  • Included grants to help States establish programs that support and facilitate noncustodial parents’ visitation with, and access to, their children
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