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Overdue child support can mean federal criminal sentences

New Yorkers may already know that parents who fail to pay court-ordered support for their children can face punishment by local and state authorities. What most people may not know, however, is that failure to pay child support can also mean federal criminal penalties.

In 1992, federal child support enforcement began with the Child Support Recovery Act. Its aim was to prosecute the worst child support offenders. The effect was limited, however, because simple misdemeanor penalties failed to deter the most egregious violators. In 1998, a new law -- the Deadbeat Parents Punishment Act -- was enacted by Congress to create new categories of federal felonies, including willful nonpayment of court-ordered child support in certain circumstances.

Under the DPPA, a parent who repeatedly fails to make court-ordered support payments for a child living in another state faces federal prosecution on misdemeanor charges if the payments have not been made for one year or the delinquent child support amount exceeds $5,000. If convicted, the offender can be sentenced to six months in jail and be fined.

If past child support payments are overdue for more than two years or the amount is more than $10,000, felony charges can be filed. Conviction in these circumstances will bring up to two years in prison as well as fines. The federal provision also prohibits those who are supposed to pay support from crossing state lines or leaving the country if their intention is to skip out on paying support that is overdue by one year or is in excess of $5,000. Conviction can mean up to two years in prison.

In general, child support enforcement is handled by local and state authorities. Nonetheless, having federal charges available may be helping some local and state enforcement agencies recover delinquent child support.

Source:, "Child Support Enforcement," Accessed Feb. 20, 2015

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