Finding an Absent Parent

One of the issues that may hinder the collection of child support arrearages (overdue payments) is learning the whereabouts of the non-custodial parent to make child support payments.  Every year, more than one million parents who owe financial child support are found through the Federal Parent Locator Service (FPLS). The FPLS is a national database and location network system operated by the federal Office of Child Support Enforcement (OCSE) that collects addresses and employer information, as well as data on financial child support cases in every state.  It collects and reports information through driver licenses, employment, passports, temporary financial assistance, tax filings, and other public records and programs available to federal officials.  OCSE also has access to the Enumeration and Verification System to track and authenticate Social Security Numbers (SSNs), and identify multiple SSNs of participants in child support cases, as well as matching data against numerous other agencies including Department of Veteran Affairs (VA), Department of Defense (DOD), Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), and Internal Revenue Service (IRS).

In short, with all the systems and automated cross-checks being put in place it is nearly impossible to escape the combined efforts of state and federal agencies to identify and report non-paying parents.  However, with millions of cases across the country, information does not always reach the correct destination in a timely manner, especially if multiple jurisdictions or agencies are involved at the same time.  But under the Uniform Interstate Family Support Act (UIFSA), all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands actively participate in the establishment, enforcement, and modification of child support orders.  It is only a matter of when, not if, the process of comparing and returning matches is able to locate a parent failing to comply with a child support order.

Under federal law, a judge also has the authority to inform a non-custodial parent of the whereabouts of their children.  The court generally has this information in the case file, or can obtain it from the local CSE.  In cases where the local child support office is sending the support payment to another state for disbursement, the child support office can also be ordered to work to obtain the contact information for the court.  A non-custodial parent may also submit a request to the local CSE office providing supporting documentation to receive the information.  Using the system works both directions too.  Petitioning to the Court to issue a nominal financial child support order can more easily access the systems within the FPLS.

There is an exception to much of this access if there is documentation of an incident or concern over domestic violence.  The judge is authorized to refuse to provide non-custodial parents with this kind of contact information.  Even if there is an issue of domestic violence, it is generally recommended the parent ask the Court for supervised access (visitation) or other similar service to better ensure the parent and children remain in contact, until the issue of safety is resolved.

If child support payments are made as ordered but the location of the children remains undetermined after reasonably exhausting the processes available through the local CSE office and Family Law/Domestic Relations Court, contact:

Commissioner Margot Bean

Office of Child Support Enforcement

901 D Street S.W.

Washington, D.C. 20447

The request for assistance should be as concise as possible.  Be sure to briefly list what procedural steps have been accomplished, a copy of all forms or letters submitted, and any written replies received through the process.  Also include the contact information of any government staff from which assistance was requested; whether any fees were paid, how much and to whom; and best, last known information on the children and custodial parent (i.e. full name, social security number, birth date, etc.).  Do not send a critique of how or why the system doesn’t work, the level of perceived competency of staff, any conspiracy theories or suspected collaborations between the custodial parent and third parties, or the fairness of child support laws and court decisions.  These kinds of tirades will only serve to clutter the important information necessary to assist in ensuring all appropriate procedures are utilized to locate the children.  If there are questions regarding the pertinence of certain information or formatting a letter for maximum affect, send a copy of the proposed request to the Children’s Rights Council for review and recommendations as necessary.