Congress enacted the Child Support Recovery Act (CSRA) on October 25, 1992. Under the CSRA, the willful failure to pay support for a child living in another state constitutes a federal crime. The past due child support obligation must be either greater than $5,000 or must have remained unpaid for more than one year.
Guidelines for implementation of the CSRA were set forth by the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ). In general, cases are usually accepted for federal prosecution only when all reasonable and available civil and state criminal remedies have already been pursued against the defendant (i.e., the non-paying parent). In other words, the government will prosecute a child support case (traditionally enforced by the individual states) only after all other reasonably available state remedies have been exhausted or are ineffective.
However, if it appears, based on the defendant’s past conduct, that further efforts to collect the past due support payments would prove futile, the government may not require complete exhaustion of all available state remedies.
When determining whether to prosecute a particular case, the government often considers the following criteria:
Whether the defendant has engaged in a pattern of moving from state to state to avoid payment or service of process (e.g., the defendant goes to another state each time an employer is served)
Whether the defendant has repeatedly engaged in deceptive tactics to avoid making payments (e.g., using false names, fake Social Security Numbers, concealment of assets)
Whether the defendant has previously been held in contempt of court for failure to make payments
Whether the children of the non-paying parent are minors
Where the defendant’s failure to make payments is related to some other federal offense (e.g., bankruptcy fraud, federal income tax evasion, bank fraud)
Whether the defendant has been previously convicted for non-support
Whether criminal charges are pending against the defendant for failure to pay child support
Whether particular circumstances necessitate instant federal involvement (e.g., the custodial parent and/or child have special medical needs or are handicapped). Other circumstances include situations where the custodial family is in danger of eviction and homelessness.
If convicted of violating the CSRA, the defendant may be punished by up to six months in a federal prison and/or a fine. For any subsequent violation of the CSRA, the sentence is increased to up to two years imprisonment and/or a fine.
Furthermore, fines and incarceration are not the sole penalties for nonpayment of child support. A court may also require the defendant to pay restitution to the custodial parent in an amount equal to the child support remaining due at the time the defendant is sentenced. The defendant will also be placed on probation for a period of years following the conviction.