Implement New Measures to Enforce Child Support Orders

The Legislature should implement new measures to enforce child support orders to improve collections.

Failure to pay child support is a crime punishable by fines and jail sentences. Parents who are delinquent in child support payments are in contempt of court and are fugitives from state justice. In its 1992 Report to Congress, The U.S. Commission on Interstate Child Support recommended that states adopt strong remedies for enforcing support in cases of persistent delinquency. 1

The Commission s report lists many remedies most involve wages, privileges, non-liquid assets, lump-sum payments and liquid assets. Examples of some of these remedies are wage withholding, removing state-granted privileges (such as licenses and registrations), intercepti ng lottery winnings and insurance settlements and liens against property. Several states have adopted one or more of these remedies.

Among the remedies available to Texas are immediate wage withholding, a provision for interception of lottery winnings and a child support lien statute. These remedies could be strengthened and others added.

For instance, Texas lump-sum remedy prohibiting delinquent parents from collecting lottery winnings until their child support debts are settled covers only lottery winnings for those cases on file with the Attorney General s office. Extending the coverage would allow custodial parents or their agents to place a judgment against a lottery winner delinquent in child-support payments.

Texas has a strong lien statute, but enforcement is difficult because in Texas liens are time consuming to file and to update. Sometimes absent parents circumvent enforcement provisions by transferring property to others to avoid a creditor.

However, liens can be an effective tool for enforcing support in the Child Support Enforcement (CSE) caseload. Private firms use liens routinely to collect past due support for their cases, and other states also report great success with liens. Washington has an aggressive policy of seizing assets of delinquent parents, which significantly deters delinquency in that state. 2 Streamlining the lien process in Texas could improve the program.

Strong enforcement remedies encourage compliance as well as facilitating support collections. In the past, states have also used public campaigns to deter delinquency. Texas participated in the national 10 Most Wanted initiative, which focused media and popular attention on deadbeat dads. The name 10 Most Wanted referred to posters, which were modeled after the FBI s most wanted posters, advertising parents delinquent in child support payments.

For the past two years, states have focused less on media campaigns against delinquent parents and more on a soft approach emphasizing the positive aspects of parenthood and rewarding timely payments with Father s Day cards. The soft approach is part of an emphasis on establishing paternity. However, significant caseload increases in the past two years indicate that this approach is only partially effective. Using a soft a pproach does not exclude a state from using a stronger approach as well.

A. The Legislature should mandate that delinquent parents will not be eligible to obtain or renew state licenses, permits or registrations.

These should include hunting and fishing licenses, drivers licenses, professional licenses, permits to operate businesses, licenses to sell regulated commodities, licenses and permits to operate machinery, vehicle registrations and permission to bid on state contracts. If a l icensing entity finds an applicant owes delinquent child support, the entity should grant the applicant a one-time, 60-day temporary approval with the stipulation that a permanent license will not be granted without written clearance from the Attorney Gene ral or from the District Attorney in non-CSE cases.

B. The Legislature should require all entities issuing licenses, permits or registrations to deny permanent approval for parents who are judged by the entity to be delinquent based upon information provi ded by the Attorney General. These entities should not grant permanent approval without written clearance from the Attorney General or the District Attorney.

Entities found to be in violation of this law should be subject to a fine of not more tan $50 for each violation.

C. The Legislature should require the Attorney General to provide lists of delinquent parents to all entities issuing state licenses, permits or registrations.

In cases where the CSE automated system has an external interface with th e licensing agency or board, the information should be transmitted electronically. In cases of retailers, the Attorney General should distribute each quarter a list of delinquent parents, similar to the bad check lists distributed by bad check collectors.

D. The Legislature should allow any agent collecting child support to initiate proceedings to revoke the license, permit or registration of an alleged delinquent parent.

The license would not be revoked without due process.

E. Delinquent parents should not be eligible to receive state-funded grants or loans.

The Attorney General should provide lists of delinquent parents to all entities determining eligibility for state funded grants or loans.

F. The Attorney General should use existing credit bureau reporting authority aggressively.

G. The Attorney General should develop streamlined processes for handling liens.

Additionally, the Attorney General should develop and implement a procedure for pursuing fraudulent transfers of property to avoid liens in child support cases.

H. The state should adopt a lump-sum remedy stating that no delinquent parent may collect a lump-sum payment until the past due balance on child support is paid.

The law should state that any agent enforcing a support order may intercept any lump-sum payment (including settlements from lawsuits and insurance claims) to settle the past due support amount.

I. Any agent enforcing a child support order should be able to freeze the parent s liquid assets up to the amount due.

J. The Attorney General should reimburse cooperating agencies for reasonable costs for participating in child support-related activities.

K. The Legislature should direct the Attorney General to develop methodologies for estimating cost-savings for the state resulting from improved child support enforcement. To achieve the savings identified as recovery for general revenue in the fiscal impa ct table, the Legislature will need to reduce the Medicaid appropriations by the specified amount.

The Legislature should ensure that savings resulting from improved enforcement are accurately reflected in agency appropriations.

L. The Attorney General should publish the names of delinquent parents and the amounts due in local newspapers once a year and once a quarter publish the names of delinquent parents who cannot be located.

The Attorney General should encourage child support field offices to publish names of delinquent parents and amounts due in local newspapers. The Attorney General should also encourage elec tronic media to carry a Texas 10 Most Wanted feature, monthly, on news broadcasts. Finally, the Attorney General should develop a series of public service announcements aimed at teens and young adults to encourage parental responsibility including child support payments. Neither the Attorney General nor anyone employed by the Attorney General should appear in any promotion related to this recommendation.

One of the most important aspects of child support enforcement is psychology. Adopting strong enforcement remedies can increase collections both by providing remedies in difficult cases and by deterring many non-custodial parents from becoming delinquent.

To encourage non-custodial parents to act responsibly, non-support must be taboo as well as illegal. Enforcement strategies that affect non-custodial parents public lives, such as those affecting licenses and permits, make non-payment a public embarrassment.

By closing loopholes, which allow wealthier parents to evade support obligations, strong enforcement strategies demonstrate that neither class nor education nor any other privilege can exempt an individual from parental responsibility.

Some groups see strong enforcement strategies as reflecting badly on parents who pay voluntarily. However, strict enforcement strategies recognize the parents who do pay voluntarily and penalize only those who do not live up to the standard set by responsi ble parents.

Because many states using strict enforcement strategies have taken great care to preserve the non-custodial parent s due process rights, due process has not been a major concern. The one suit involving professional licensing and alleging due process violation was denied. 3

Most of these enforcement remedies would require cooperation from other state agencies, such as the Department of Public Safety, licensing boards, higher education institutions and the Department of Parks and Wildlife. These enforcement strategies also wou ld require cooperation from retailers and local law enforcement agents.

Fiscal Impact
Adopting comprehensive statutes for child support enforcement remedies should lead to increased collections in both public assistance and non-public assistance cases. Adopting these recommendations would increase collections by at least 5 percent in cases with orders.

The remedies would entail some additional administrative costs both for the Child Support Enforcement program and for some other state agencies. Administrative costs would total an estimated $622,000 for fiscal 1994.

Implementing strong enforcement remedies would result in net Medicaid reimbursements and additional revenues of $5.7 million in fiscal 1994 and $34.7 million over five years. These strategies would provide the children of Texas with $182 million in additio nal child support over the five-year period.

Gain to the Net Gain to the Savings to the
Fiscal Child Support Retained Administrative Child Support Retained General Revenue Change
Year Collections Account Costs Collections Account Fund 001 in FTEs

1994 $6,222,000 $622,000 $5,600,000 $120,000 0
1995 6,885,000 688,000 6,197,000 136,000 0
1996 7,545,000 755,000 6,790,000 149,000 0
1997 8,206,000 821,000 7,385,000 162,000 0
1998 8,887,000 887,000 8,000,000 175,000 0

1 U.S. Commission on Interstate Child Support, Report to Congress, Supporting Our Children: Blueprint for Reform, 1992.
2 Ben Moorhead, State Survey of Innovative Child Support Practices (The University of Texas at Austin, September, 1992) (Draft).
3 Interview with Elyse Wechterman, Office of the Attorney General, Child Support Division, Austin, Texas, December 3, 1992.