Providing FPLS Locate Services to an “Agent of the Child” for Child Support Purposes
DATE: December 04, 2002
TO: STATE TITLE IV-D AGENCIES AND OTHER INTERESTED PARTIES
SUBJECT: Providing FPLS locate services to an “agent of the child” for child support purposes
PURPOSE: To clarify policy and procedures for providing FPLS locate services to persons who qualify as an ’agent of the child’ for child support purposes
P.L. 93-647, the Social Services Amendments of 1974, established the Federal Parent Locator Service (FPLS) and specified the conditions under which authorized persons could make requests for information concerning the whereabouts of noncustodial parents. The term “authorized person” (for purposes of child support) is defined in section 453(c)(1)-(3) of the Social Security Act (the Act) as:
1. Any agent or attorney of any state having in effect a plan approved under this part, who has the duty or authority under such plans to seek to recover any amounts owed as child and spousal support (including, when authorized under the state plan, any official of a political subdivision);
2. The court which has authority to issue an order or to serve as the initiating court in an action to seek an order against a noncustodial parent for the support and maintenance of a child, or any agent of such court;
3. The resident parent, legal guardian, attorney, or agent of a child (other than a child receiving assistance under a state program funded under part A of this subchapter) (as determined by regulations prescribed by the Secretary) without regard to the existence of a court order against a noncustodial parent who has a duty to support and maintain any such child.
Historically, cases involving an ’agent of a child’ who is not receiving aid under title IV-A of the Act have been referred to as non-IV-D locate-only cases. There have been questions with regard to providing locate services to persons who may be considered an ’agent of a child,’ as the term is not defined in either the regulations or the Act. Black’s Law Dictionary defines an agent as “a person authorized by another to act for or in place of him.”
Agent of a Child
The purpose of the FPLS, as described by section 453(a)(2) of the Act, is to establish parentage or to establish, set the amount of, modify, or enforce child support obligations. For purposes of requesting locate services under section 453(a)(2) of the Act and 45 CFR 302.35, a for-profit, private collection agency or private attorney could act as an ’agent of a child’ provided it has a valid contract that meets the state’s statutory and regulatory requirements for acting as an agent, if any.
A noncustodial or nonresident parent or legal guardian is not considered an ’agent of the child’ for child support purposes. Guidance regarding use of the FPLS for custody and visitation purposes is provided in regulations at 45 CFR 303.15 and PIQ-98-05, dated August 12, 1998.
Procedure for Making Locate Requests
A resident parent, legal guardian, attorney, or agent of a child who is not receiving aid under title IV-A of the Act (that is, not receiving assistance under the Temporary Assistance to Needy Families program) may request location services from the FPLS (section 453(a)(2) of the Act). Requests must be directed to a State Parent Locator Service (SPLS). Federal regulations at 45 CFR 303.70 provide that only a SPLS may submit requests to the FPLS.
What Location Information Is Provided
The location information provided to a resident parent, legal guardian, attorney, or agent of a child who is not receiving aid under title IV-A is limited by section 453 of the Act. The FPLS provides the following information, if available, about the person being located for child support purposes: Social Security number, address, wage and unemployment compensation amounts, employment benefits (e.g., health care coverage) and the employer’s name, address, and employer identification number. Asset information from a source other than the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) may also be provided, if available. At the present time, the FPLS does not access asset information from sources other than the IRS. IRS information is protected by section 6103 of the Internal Revenue Code and may not be released except to a federal, state, or local child support agency and, therefore, it may not be released to a resident parent, legal guardian, attorney, or agent of a child who is not receiving aid under title IV-A, unless independently verified.
Privacy and Safeguarding of Information Received
Persons receiving FPLS information for child support purposes must protect the privacy rights of individuals whose data they receive by safeguarding the information and using or disclosing the information only for purposes of child support enforcement.
Section 453 of the Act imposes restrictions on disclosure and use of FPLS information. Specifically:
Section 453 (l) of the Act specifies that information in the FPLS shall not be used or disclosed except as expressly provided in section 453. Disclosure and use of FPLS information to a resident parent, legal guardian, attorney, or agent of a child who is not receiving aid under title IV-A is limited only to child support purposes.
Section 454(26) of the Act requires the state IV-D agency to have in effect safeguards, applicable to all confidential information handled by the agency, that are designed to protect the privacy rights of the parties, including safeguards against unauthorized use or disclosure of information relating to proceedings or actions to establish paternity, or to establish, modify, or enforce support. Thus, state IV-D agencies, in handling the confidential FPLS information provided to a resident parent, legal guardian, attorney, or agent of a child who is not receiving aid under title IV-A, must, at a minimum, inform a requestor in writing that any FPLS information provided must be safeguarded and disclosed only for child support purposes.
Charging Fees for Locate Requests
Section 453(e)(2) of the Act requires that, whenever FPLS locate services are provided to a resident parent, legal guardian, attorney, or agent of a child who is not receiving aid under title IV-A, a fee must be charged to reimburse the Secretary of HHS or his delegate for the expense of providing the information.
According to regulations at §303.70(e)(2), the IV-D agency may charge an individual requesting information, or pay without charging the individual, the required fee. In a IV-D case, the state may later recover the fee from a noncustodial parent who owes a support obligation and repay itself or repay the individual who requested the information.
States, based on their size, already pay OCSE a fixed fee for using the FPLS. States may wish to consider additional factors when setting the fee required when providing FPLS locate services for child support purposes to a resident parent, legal guardian, attorney, or agent of a child who is not receiving aid under title IV-A. In particular, states may wish to charge the requestor enough to recover their costs of processing these requests. Under §303.70(e)(3), the fees associated with these requests "shall be reasonable and as close to actual costs as possible so as not to discourage use of the FPLS by authorized individuals."
REFERENCES: OCSE-AT-99-09, June 16, 1999
OCSE-AT-76-3, February 13, 1976 (superseded)
42 U.S.C. 1306, 653 and 654
26 U.S.C. 6103 (Internal Revenue Code)
45 CFR 302.35, 303.15, 303.70
INQUIRIES TO: ACF Regional Administrators
Sherri Z. Heller, Ed.D.
Office of Child Support Enforcement