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Friday, April 22, 2011

Child Support Enforcement and Driver’s License Suspension Policies

Carmen Solomon-Fears
Specialist in Social Policy

The Child Support Enforcement (CSE) program is a federal-state program whose mission is to enhance the well-being of children by helping custodial parents obtain financial support for their children from the noncustodial parent. Child support payments enable parents who do not live with their children to fulfill their financial responsibility to their children by contributing to the payment of childrearing costs. As a condition of receiving federal CSE funds, Congress requires each state to have in effect laws requiring the use of a specified list of collection/enforcement procedures to increase the effectiveness of the state’s CSE program. P.L. 104-193 (the 1996 welfare reform law) added to the CSE program’s array of collection/enforcement methods by giving states the authority to withhold, suspend, or restrict the driver’s license of certain noncustodial parents. Although income withholding is the main and most effective way of collecting child support (67% of collections), 16% of child support collections in FY2009 were obtained through un-named methods (often categorized in data reports as “other” or “other sources”), which included money obtained directly from noncustodial parents who were paying their child support obligation to avoid having their driver’s license withheld, suspended, or restricted. The use of these driver’s license suspension procedures is not mandated in every case, but they must be available at a state’s discretion. Because driver’s license suspension procedures follow state law, practices vary across the country. States have a great deal of flexibility in implementing driver’s license suspension programs.

In 2008, there were 208 million licensed drivers in the United States (about 87% of the drivingage population). According to survey data, about 5% of the U.S. population who worked took public transportation to their jobs, while 76% commuted to work in a private vehicle and 11% carpooled (the remaining 8% walked, bicycled, rode a motorcycle, or worked at home).

Supporters of driver’s license suspension policies re-iterate that a driver’s license is a privilege provided by the states. They maintain that noncustodial parents who fail to meet their child support obligations are not deserving of driving privileges. They also say that people who cannot afford to pay their child support obligations because of financial circumstances have the opportunity to have their child support payments reduced through state CSE review and modification procedures and thereby have no legitimate excuse for noncompliance. They contend that states have been very successful in collecting child support payments through this collection/enforcement method.

Critics of driver’s license suspension policies contend that having one’s driving privilege suspended is counterproductive. They assert that it can lessen a person’s ability to keep a job or find work and thus lessen the person’s ability to fulfill his or her child support obligation. They note that some noncustodial parents may become resentful of the government and his or her relationship with the custodial parent may become antagonistic, which may have a negative impact on the child’s (or children’s) well-being. Moreover, they say that some noncustodial parents who feel that they are battling a futile situation may become less engaged with society, their families, and their children and thereby become less concerned about trying to meet their child support obligations.

This report provides basic information on the CSE program, describes the ways in which states have implemented driver’s license suspension policies (see the Appendix for the state table), provides existing data on the amounts collected through driver’s license suspension policies, and discusses some concerns regarding the use of driver’s license suspension as a CSE program tool.

Date of Report: April 11, 2011
Number of Pages: 28
Order Number: R41762
Price: $29.95

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