A Look Inside OCSE - Story Series
Sometimes it’s difficult to collect past-due child support, especially when those amounts reach into the tens of thousands of dollars. The average amount owed among noncustodial parents with child support debt is more than $21,000. In some instances, it isn’t because these parents can’t pay, but because they choose not to pay. The Passport Denial Program provides an effective tool to collect past-due support from delinquent parents who want to travel outside of the United States — for vacation, work, or any other reason.
OCSE received authority to initiate the Passport Denial Program as part of the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996. Back then, the Passport Denial Program promised to be a revolutionary new enforcement tool to help children and families get their past-due support. Today the program is much more successful than the child support community ever imagined.
Noncustodial parents who owe past-due support receive a Pre-Offset Notice that explains the amount they owe and provides information about the remedies OCSE can use to collect and enforce repayments of that amount. The notice explains the authority for these remedies including the Passport Denial Program. It also gives the parent an opportunity to contest the amount owed and instructions on how to appeal.
How the program works
The Act provides for the denial, revocation, and restriction of U.S. passports when a parent owes at least $2,500 in past- due support. Child support agencies submit information on parents who meet the criteria for passport denial. OCSE forwards those parents’ names to the Department of State to reject their passport applications. The State Department will also revoke a current passport when the parent surrenders it to a passport agent or embassy representative for service, like to add pages, change a name, update a picture, or repair or reissue a damaged passport.
When the State Department denies or revokes a passport, it sends the parent a rejection notice and instructs them to contact the appropriate state child support agency and provides the points of contact.
Criteria for removal
The law does not require child support agencies to remove individuals from the program when their past-due amounts fall below the $2,500 threshold. States request removal according to their policies and procedures and based on case-by-case reviews. Some will work with parents to set up reasonable payment plans to help them stay current, while others will require partial or full payments.
OCSE removes the noncustodial parent from the program when the past-due balance reaches zero or the state deletes or excludes the case. Submitting states are the only agencies that can request a parent’s withdrawal from the Passport Denial Program. If more than one state submits the same parent, all certifying states must request withdrawal before the State Department will issue a passport. If the state has multiple cases for the parent, the state must withdraw all of them.
Making it happen
OCSE’s Passport Denial Customer Service Team acts as a liaison among state child support staff, the State Department, parents, regional staff, congressional liaisons, attorneys, employers, and others. The team has three main goals:
- Use the program as effectively as possible to help families get past-due support
- Explain the process to parents whose passports have been denied
- Provide a fast and easy way for the parent to get their passport when the state releases it
The team quickly collaborates with OCSE partners to help everyone involved. They respond to numerous telephone and email inquiries daily, sometimes handling inquiries from multiple people about the same case.
For cases where the state has not requested a parent’s removal, the team may need to take additional steps including:
- Giving the parent appropriate contact information for the state child support agency and the State Department
- Coordinating with an OCSE regional office
- Communicating with congressional liaisons
- Facilitating communication between all parties involved
Coordination among child support agencies, the team, and the State Department is critical to ensure that everyone involved in the passport denial process gets prompt responses and actions.
Since its inception, states have reported nearly $500 million dollars in collections through the Passport Denial Program. In 2018, states reported over $33 million and over 1,700 success stories to go with those payments. Through October 2019, there have been eight large collections of more than $100,000, including the fourth largest ever at over $401,000. Here are details on them.
|Payment Amount||State receiving collection||parent's Reason for payment|
|$401,000||New York||Wanted to travel to East Asia|
|$146,000||California||To remove a lien on personal property|
|$146,000||New Jersey||Unknown travel plans|
|$126,000||California||To remove lien on escrow account|
|$123,000||Nebraska||Court ordered payment for passport release|
|$116,000||Texas||Unknown travel plans|
|$111,000||California||Paid on four cases to travel for vacation|
For more information about the Passport Denial Program or to share a story about an interesting collection your state has made, contact the OCSE Special Collections Team at email@example.com or visit the Passport Denial webpage.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Rebecca Hamil is a member of the Passport Denial Team at the Office of Child Support Enforcement. Updated original content from the article published in the June 2018 Child Support Report.