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Requests for Information from the FPLS for Parental Kidnapping, Child Custody or Visitation Purposes

AT-03-06

Published: December 22, 2003
Information About:
Other Public Partners, Child Welfare (IV-B), Courts, Foster Care (IV-E), State/Local Child Support Agencies
Topics:
Federal Systems, Federal Parent Locator Service (FPLS)
Types:
Policy, Action Transmittals (AT)

ACTION TRANSMITTAL

AT-03-06

DATE: December 22, 2003

TO: State Agencies Administering Child Support Enforcement Plans under Title IV-D of the Social Security Act and Other Interested Parties

SUBJECT: Requests for Information from the Federal Parent Locator Service for Parental Kidnapping, Child Custody or Visitation Purposes

PURPOSE: It has been brought to our attention that the Federal Parent Locator Service (FPLS) is not often used for locating a parent or child in cases of parental kidnapping or for custody or visitation purposes. This action transmittal addresses Federal policy for use of the FPLS for enforcing a Federal or state law with respect to the unlawful taking or restraint of a child or making or enforcing a child custody or visitation determination. It is intended to increase awareness about the authority to use the FPLS for these purposes and the procedures for obtaining FPLS location information to assist in these cases.

We believe that state IV-D agencies and the State Parent Locator Service (SPLS), as the entry point for FPLS location requests, should be of assistance in advising authorized persons about the proper steps for submitting location requests for parental kidnapping or custody and visitation purposes. When an authorized person contacts the IV-D agency to request information from the FPLS for purposes of investigating, enforcing or prosecuting a parental kidnaping case or making or enforcing a child custody or visitation determination, the IV-D agency should assist that individual by informing him or her of any applicable state requirements or procedures and the requirements and procedures discussed below.

BACKGROUND: The Social Security Act (the Act) specifies the parameters for FPLS location requests. As set forth in the Act:

• information may be requested only for an authorized purpose

• the requestor must be an authorized person

• only specified information may be provided for a particular purpose

• information shall be used or disclosed only as expressly permitted in the Act.

Federal regulations require state IV-D agencies to honor authorized requests for FPLS location information and submit them to the FPLS using the State Parent Locator Service. 45 CFR 302.35. Authorized Federal agents or attorneys may request FPLS information directly from OCSE.

Each of these parameters is addressed in more detail below with respect to use of the FPLS in cases of parental kidnapping or for custody and visitation purposes.

Authorized Purpose

Title IV-D of the Act authorizes use of the FPLS for enforcing a Federal or state law with respect to the unlawful taking or restraint of a child, often referred to as parental kidnapping, or for determining the whereabouts of a parent or child for the purpose of making or enforcing a child custody or visitation determination. Sections 453(a)(3) and 463(a) of the Act; 42 U.S.C. 653(a)(3) and 663(a). In this context, "custody or visitation determination" means a judgment, decree, or other order of a court providing for the custody or visitation of a child. The term includes permanent and temporary orders, and initial orders and modifications. Section 463(d)(1) of the Act; 42 U.S.C. 663(d)(1).

Authorized Person

Title IV-D of the Act permits only specified authorized persons to obtain FPLS information in the case of an unlawful taking or restraint of a child or for making or enforcing a custody or visitation order. For these purposes, the term "authorized person" means:

  1. any agent or attorney of any state … who has the duty or authority under the law of that state to make or enforce a child custody or visitation determination;
  2. any court having jurisdiction to make or enforce a child custody or visitation determination, or any agent of such court; and
  3. any agent or attorney of the United States, or of a state having an agreement under this section, who has the duty or authority to investigate, enforce, or bring a prosecution with respect to the unlawful taking or restraint of a child. Section 463(d)(2)(A)-(C) of the Act; 42 U.S.C. 663(d)(2)(A)-(C).

Under the Act, a parent seeking to locate another parent or a child in a case of parental kidnapping or for custody or visitation purposes is not an "authorized person" and may not receive FPLS information. Nor is a private attorney considered an authorized person for purposes of requesting FPLS information in such cases. An authorized person, who submits a request for FPLS information, may not re-release that information to the parent, the parent’s attorney, or any other unauthorized individual or entity. Rather, the information provided to the authorized person is for his or her own use to enable him or her to proceed with making or enforcing a custody or visitation determination or investigating or prosecuting the unlawful taking or restraint of a child.

An agent or attorney of the state, within the meaning of the statute, is authorized to submit a request for FPLS information, provided that the state has a law that empowers the official to act on behalf of the state to enforce a child custody or visitation determination or investigate or prosecute a parental kidnaping. To the extent provided by state law, examples of such agents are officers employed by the state, such as social workers and law enforcement officials, including a state’s attorney empowered to act on behalf of the state to prosecute a parental kidnaping or child custody case. An authorized person, for custody or visitation purposes, must be an individual or entity who is able to enforce the custody or visitation order.

A court is authorized to submit a request for FPLS information for the purpose of making or enforcing a custody or visitation determination. In order to receive FPLS information, the court must have jurisdiction to make or enforce this type of order.

In the case of an unlawful taking or restraint of a child, the agent or attorney of the state or Federal government who is working on the case has authority to request FPLS information.

Authorized Information

In response to a location request in the case of parental kidnaping or for custody and visitation purposes, the Act provides that the information that may be obtained from the FPLS includes only the most recent address and place of employment of the parent or child whose location is sought. Section 463(c) of the Act; 42 U.S.C. 663(c).

Federal regulations require the state IV-D agency to adopt policies and procedures to ensure that information is used and disclosed solely for the authorized purpose. 45 CFR 303.15(c)(8). Under this provision, upon receipt of any response from the FPLS, the IV-D agency is required to send the information directly to the court or other authorized person that requested it and make no other use of the information. After the information is sent to the court or other authorized person, the IV-D agency must destroy any confidential records and information related to the request.

Authorized Use and Disclosure

The Act specifies that information obtained from the FPLS shall not be used or disclosed except to authorized persons for the purposes authorized in section 453 of the Act, 42 U.S.C. 653. Information disclosed for one purpose may not be used or disclosed for any other purpose. Section 453(l)(1) of the Act; 42 U.S.C. 653(l)(1). When a state IV-D agency receives a request to use the FPLS for parental kidnaping, child custody or visitation purposes, the IV-D agency must ensure the requestor is the proper entity in the state for making such a request and, further, that the authorized requestor understands that no re-disclosure is permissible, except to another authorized court or agent or attorney of the state.

The Act also prohibits the disclosure of FPLS information to an authorized person if a state has notified the FPLS that the state has reasonable evidence of domestic violence or child abuse and that disclosure of such information could be harmful to the custodial parent or the child of such parent. Section 453(b)(2) of the Act; 42 U.S.C. 653(b)(2). If the FPLS has received such notification, information will be disclosed to a court which, upon receipt of the information from the FPLS, will determine whether disclosure to any other authorized person could be harmful to the parent or the child. If the court determines that such disclosure could be harmful, the court shall not disclose the information to the authorized person. Sections 453(b)(2) and 454(26)(E) of the Act; 42 U.S.C. 653(b)(2) and 654(26)(E).

Procedures for Requesting FPLS Information

Except for requests from authorized Federal agents or attorneys, which come directly to OCSE, the SPLS is the mechanism for submitting requests to the FPLS*.  A state's SPLS contact is available on the OCSE web site at https://extranet.acf.hhs.gov/irg/welcome.html

A request must contain information about the individual whose location is sought, including the name and Social Security number. If the SSN is unknown, the IV-D agency must make every reasonable effort to ascertain the individual’s SSN before submitting the request to the FPLS. 45 CFR 303.70(c).

The IV-D agency may charge an individual, or pay without charging the individual, the fee required under section 454(17) of the Act, 42 U.S.C. 654(17), for use of the FPLS in cases of parental kidnaping or for custody or visitation purposes. 45 CFR 303.70(c).

Model State Laws

By 1981, each state had adopted the model Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction Act. In 1997, the Uniform Law Commissioners promulgated a new Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act (UCCJEA) to replace the UCCJA. The UCCJEA has been enacted in approximately 35 states as of the date of this Action Transmittal. The remaining states have the older statute in effect. Information about these model acts, and the states that have adopted the UCCJEA, is available on the website of the National Conference of Commissioners on Uniform State Laws*.  For information on these model acts, see the NCCUSL website: http://www.uniformlaws.org/

Conclusion

When an authorized person contacts the IV-D agency to request information from the FPLS in a parental kidnaping case or for purposes of making or enforcing a child custody or visitation determination, the IV-D agency should assist that individual by informing him or her of the requirements and procedures outlined above and any applicable state requirements or procedures.

INQUIRIES: ACF Regional Administrators

Sherri Z. Heller, Ed.D.
Commissioner
Office of Child Support Enforcement