Overview of Federal Parent Locator Service

Publication Date: December 29, 2011

In the United States today, nearly one-third of all children are growing up in single-parent homes. Of all families owed child support, only half receive the full amount due, and a quarter receives nothing at all. The goal of the child support enforcement program, established in 1975 under Title IV-D of the Social Security Act and referred to as the IV-D program, is to ensure that children receive financial and emotional support from both parents.

Designed as a joint federal, state, and local partnership, the child support program involves 54 separate state and territory programs, each with its own unique laws and procedures. The program is usually run by state and local human service agencies, often with the help of prosecuting attorneys and other law enforcement officials as well as officials of family or domestic relations courts. At the federal level, the Department of Health and Human Services provides technical assistance and funding to the states through the federal Office of Child Support Enforcement (OCSE) and operates the Federal Parent Locator Service (FPLS). OCSE assists states in locating noncustodial parents, in enforcing and establishing child support orders, and collecting child support.

What is the FPLS?

The FPLS is an assembly of systems operated by OCSE, to assist states in locating noncustodial parents, putative fathers, and custodial parties for the establishment of paternity and child support obligations, as well as the enforcement and modification of orders for child support, custody and visitation. It also identifies support orders or support cases involving the same parties in different states. The FPLS helps federal and state agencies identify over-payments and fraud, and assists with assessing benefits. Developed in cooperation with the states, employers, federal agencies, and the judiciary, the FPLS was expanded by Welfare Reform to include:

  • The National Directory of New Hires (NDNH): a central repository of employment, unemployment insurance, and wage data from State Directories of New Hires, State Workforce Agencies, and federal agencies.
  • The Federal Case Registry (FCR): a national database that contains information on participants in child support cases and child support orders.
  • The Federal Offset Program (FOP): a program that collects past-due child support payments from the tax refund of parents who have been ordered to pay child support.
  • The Federal Administrative Offset Program (FAOP): a program that intercepts certain federal payments in order to collect past-due child support.
  • The Passport Denial Program (PPD): a program that works with the Secretary of State in denying passports of any person certified as owing a child support debt greater than $2,500.
  • The Multistate Financial Institution Data Match (MSFIDM): a program that allows child support agencies a means of locating financial assets of individuals owing child support.

Additionally, the FPLS also has access to external locate sources such as the Internal Revenue Service, the Social Security Administration, the Department of Veterans Affairs, the Department of Defense, the National Security Agency, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

How does the FPLS support a state's IV-D child support program?

The FPLS works in six ways to support state IV-D child support programs:

  • First, the FPLS performs automatic locate functions. Using a process known as proactive matching, the FPLS compares data from the NDNH to data in the FCR. As soon as the FPLS finds that a noncustodial parent or custodial party in the FCR has a new job, is claiming unemployment insurance benefits or has quarterly wage information available, it automatically notifies any state with a related child support case, so the state child support agency can take immediate action to establish, modify, or enforce a child support order. The FPLS also automatically performs an internal search that identifies all states that have a common interest in an individual in a child support action.
  • Second, at the request of a state child support agency's Parent Locator Service, the FPLS will perform an external locate to various federal agencies in an attempt to locate noncustodial parents and/or their assets for the purpose of establishing or enforcing a child support order.
  • Third, the FPLS can be used in certain circumstances to help enforce child custody and visitation orders, and to assist in cases of parental kidnapping.
  • Fourth, the FOP and FAOP collect money in past-due child support cases and provides it to the states to distribute to the custodial parties.
  • Fifth, the PPD requires a noncustodial parent to contact their child support agency and make payment(s) in order to obtain a passport.
  • Sixth, the MSFIDM provides a noncustodial parent's financial asset information to the state child support agency. The state child support agency can take the necessary actions to seize those assets.

Who may request information from the FPLS?

In child support cases, authorization to request information from the FPLS is limited to state child support agencies or agents/attorneys that represent those agencies to collect child and spousal support; certain courts or agents of the court; and, with limitations, state agencies that administer child welfare or foster care programs. In parental kidnapping, child custody, or visitation cases, certain agents and attorneys of the state or the court may request information from the FPLS. All requests for information from the FPLS must go through a State Parent Locator Service.

In addition, any authorized agency with legislative approval that meets other requirements that govern the data exchange or match may have access to the National Directory of New Hires.

As a custodial party or noncustodial parent, may I request information from the FPLS?

Individuals may not make direct requests to the FPLS for information. By working with the state or local child support agency, you may be able to use the FPLS to help locate the other parent without applying for full child support services. Any request to the FPLS for information must go through a State Parent Locator Service. In addition, in issues of parental kidnapping, custody or visitation, all requests must first go through the court.

Is the information in the database secure?

Federal law requires all states to protect the confidential information maintained by state IV-D agencies. At the federal level, the Secretary of Health and Human Services has established and implemented safeguards for the FPLS that:

  • Ensure the security, accuracy and completeness of information.
  • Restrict access to confidential information to authorized persons for authorized purposes.
  • Require states and matching partners to implement policies and procedures to ensure the integrity, accuracy, and completeness of data in their automated systems, and to prevent unauthorized use or disclosure of information related to the establishment or enforcement of child support.

All partners in the child support community recognize that ensuring the security of FPLS data is vital to the success of child support programs, and for protecting the privacy of American citizens.

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