State Department denies passports to any non-custodial parent owing $2,500 or more in court-ordered child support.
Governor M. Jodi Rell on Monday said that tens of thousands of Connecticut parents who are behind on their child support payments must now pay up if they want to travel outside the country.
Connecticut has more than 57,000 non-custodial parents who could see passport applications denied because of unpaid child support and a nationwide measure that links past-due support with passport approval. Because of new federal travel rules involving neighboring countries like Canada and Mexico, the ability to get a passport is becoming more important for vacationers and business travelers.
The Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative, enacted by Congress in 2004, strengthened border security and facilitated entry into the United States for citizens and legitimate international visitors. On January 23, 2007, the requirements for air travel took effect, mandating that any United States citizen returning from Canada, Mexico, Central and South America, the Caribbean and Bermuda present a valid passport.
Applications for passports surged when the change was announced. Because of the passport application backlog, U.S. citizens who had applied for but not yet received passports were allowed to temporarily enter and depart from the United States by air with a government-issued photo identification and Department of State official proof of application.
This temporary loosening of passport requirements ends on September 30, 2007.
All those new passport applications have turned out to be helpful for child support enforcement professionals across the country, as the U.S. State Department denies passports to any non-custodial parent owing $2,500 or more in court-ordered child support.
"Parents can only get a passport after they have paid their balance," Governor Rell said. "The state has seen a noteworthy increase in the number of calls from parents owing child support. They are asking how they can pay a balance to enable them to get a passport. This has resulted in additional collections of money owed to children."
The governor said her hope would be that no passports are denied, emphasizing that the authority linking passport approval with child support payments is simply a step to leverage the collection of court-ordered support that should have been paid in the first place.
Since January 2007, when the new federal passport rules were announced, Connecticut has collected nearly $180,000 from 44 non-custodial parents who were notified that their passport privileges were in jeopardy -- a significant jump in the normal collection rate from passport denial. Since June 2002, Connecticut has collected nearly $600,000 from 164 non-custodial parents seeking to clear their passport applications.
The rest of the country is seeing a similar effect. In the first six months of 2007, about $22.5 million in child support was collected nationwide through the federal Passport Denial Program. It took all of 2006 to collect about that much through passport denials.
In July, Governor Rell signed into law a bill that allows the state to collect past-due child support in certain cases through offsets of state and federal tax returns for children who are 18 years of age or older. In the past, this was only possible for families with minor children. This provision applies in cases when the custodial parent has asked the state to help collect past due child support or when the child has received state assistance under programs such as HUSKY or Temporary Family Assistance.
In addition, the state law authorizes the automatic suspension of child support when the Superior Court in a family matter changes the custody of a child; authorizes the continuation of support payments for children up to the age of 19 regardless of whether the child resides with a parent; and sets a reasonable cost standard that a court can use in deciding whether to require a parent to pay for medical insurance. It also permits the court to order both parents to help pay the cost of medical insurance.
The new state law also keeps Connecticut laws governing interstate child support collection up-to-date with the most recent version of the Uniform Interstate Family Support Act.
"This comprehensive legislation truly means more dollars will go into the pockets of families who rely on child support to make ends meet," Governor Rell said. "Its provisions are fair and reasonable both for those who must pay the support and those who receive it. It also ensures that our state remains in compliance with mandated national child support law and keeps us in good standing for needed federal revenue."
Altogether in Connecticut, a total of $300.1 million was collected in the 2007 fiscal year on behalf of children owed court-ordered support. Custodial parents seeking information about the Connecticut child support system may call 1-800-228-KIDS. Services include location of absent parents, establishment of paternity, and establishment and enforcement of support orders.