The Diversity of Child Support Enforcement Measures The Court’s Decision, The Neglected Child, and The Beloved V8

This excellent post is thanks to Tracy Burnette, Regent Law School 2L.

According to the Department of Health and Human Services,a main objective of the Child Support Enforcement (CSE) Program is to make sure that child support payments are made regularly and in the correct amount.”[1] “The anxiety the custodial parent feels when payments are not regular can easily disrupt the family's life.” Id.  

Various jurisdictions across the United States have employed creative methods of enforcement in order to remedy the problems of child support enforcement and collection. A few jurisdictions have developed innovative strategies for penalizing non-payors of child support, perhaps even to incite public embarrassment. However, some jurisdictions remain relatively traditional in penalizing the support-deficient. For example, in Virginia[2], a non-compliant, support-deficient parent may be subjected to any of the following traditional penalties for failure to comply with his or her child support obligation[3]:
·         Service of a Lien[4]
·         Civil Contempt of Court[5]
·         Incarceration Until Support Paid
·         Suspension[6] of / Refusal to Renew His/Her Driver’s License
·         Revocation of His/Her Driver’s License
·         Attaching Unemployment Benefits[7] or Employment Compensation Benefits[8]

Some jurisdictions have employed extremely innovative enforcement measures. Louisiana[9] and Virginia[10], among other states, have utilized both hard copy and electronic “Wanted” lists for each of the state’s most reluctant parents.[11] The (not-so) lucky reluctant parent’s name and photograph are broadcasted to whomever will take a gander at the list.

Among the inventive jurisdictions and the most surprising, in my opinion, is the “boot” method. Designed to publically embarrass non-custodial, non-paying parents who have been reluctant in paying their respective child support obligation, this “boot” method has been employed by Illinois[12], Cape May County, New Jersey[13], Wayne County, Michigan[14], and Fairfax County, Virginia[15].

In addition to employing traditional measures to ensure the enforcement of one’s obligation to pay child support, officials in Fairfax County have been vested with the authority to locate one’s vehicle and immobilize it for neglecting to pay child support.[16] Fairfax County has been booting cars since 1998.[17] Between March 1998 and December 1999, 70 vehicles were booted in Fairfax County, resulting in an average of $5,000 from each non-custodial, non-paying parent.[18]

In 2000 the Commonwealth of Virginia took this idea statewide,[19] giving the Department of Social Services authorization to boot a noncustodial parent’s car, provided certain circumstances exist.[20] In order for the Department of Social Services to have one’s vehicle booted by the sheriff the Department must have previously attempted to enforce the child support obligation by employing “conventional” methods of enforcement, unless inappropriate to use such traditional methods.  In addition, there is a nominal threshold for arrears and a lien must have been filed.  

This leads to the inquiry of whose car can be booted? The sheriff has authority, delegated by the Department of Social Services, to boot a vehicle owned (1) solely by the non-custodial, non-paying parent, (2) co-owned by the non-custodial, non-paying parent and his or her current spouse, or (3) a business’s vehicle provided that the non-custodial, non-paying parent is the sole proprietor of that business.[21]

So far, we now understand that one’s vehicle may be in jeopardy contingent upon whether that person has been reluctant in fulfilling his or her child support obligation and the requisite conditions are present. However, there’s more to this “boot method” than just the observation that it exists and the conditions by which it may be employed. The boot placed on the non-payor’s vehicle is tailored the sex of the innocent child in which he or she is financially neglecting: baby blue for boys and pastel pink for girls.[22]

Statistics reveal that the collection of child support steadily increased following the year 2000 in which the Commonwealth of Virginia took Fairfax County’s “boot method” statewide.[23] In 2000, the White House issued a press release commending Virginia’s innovative method and stating former President Clinton’s intention to take this idea nationwide.[24]

Even though the “boot” method has proven effective, statistically, a lingering concern remains: what about the non-custodial, non-paying parents who enjoy the luxury of owning multiple vehicles? Would the Department authorize the sheriff to boot all cars owned by the non-custodial, non-paying parent? If not, the enforcement method is virtually ineffective in that the parent would not be immobilized; the parent would simply use another one of his or her vehicles and go about his or her other priorities.

Perhaps employing a combination of the innovative “boot” method and a “conventional” method would better effectuate the enforcement method’s purpose: in addition to booting the car, suspend the license. This combination would immobilize the non-custodial, non-paying parent and would prevent him or her from circumventing the purpose of the enforcement measure. Regardless, it seems to be working, providing children with much needed support, while also providing some of us with a source of entertainment. 

[1] Handbook on Child Support Enforcement, Dept. of Health and Human Services Administration for Children and Families, Office of Child Support Enforcement, pg # 24 (last updated 2008), www.acf.hhs.gov/sites/default/files/ocse/handbook_on_cse1.pdf.
[2] In the Commonwealth of Virginia, the “support enforcement agency” is defined as: “a public official or agency authorized to seek enforcement of support orders or laws relating to the duty of support, establishment or modification of child support, determination of parentage, location of obligors or their assets, or determination of the controlling child support order. A support enforcement agency of the Commonwealth is not authorized to establish or enforce a support order for spousal support only.” Va. Code Ann. § 20-88.32 (2005).
[3] Support Order is defined as: a judgment, decree, or order, whether temporary, final, or subject to modification, issued by a tribunal for the benefit of a child, a spouse, or a former spouse, which provides for monetary support, health care, arrearages, or reimbursement, and may include related costs and fees, interest, income withholding, attorney's fees, and other relief.” Va. Code Ann. § 20-88.32 (2005).
[4] Va. Code Ann. § 63.2-1927 (2003).
[5]Last year, Assistant Attorneys General: Represented DCSE in 141,483 hearings, including civil
contempt hearings, which resulted in 652,785 days in jail for noncustodial parents who failed to pay support; assisted in collecting $13 million in lump sum child support payments; and assisted in obtaining new court orders for child support totaling $1.5 million.” Virginia Department of Social Services 2011-2012 Fact Sheet, Va. Dept. of Soc. Serv. 2 (2012), http://www.dss.virginia.gov/geninfo/reports/children/child_support.cgi [hereinafter VDSS Fact Sheet].
[6] According to the Virginia Department of Social Services, “DCSE has collected $430 million in delinquent child support since 1996, $33.5 million during this fiscal year, through the suspension of driver’s licenses.” Id.
[7] According to the Virginia Department of Social Services, the “collection payment” accounts for 89% of child support payments. “[The Department] [c]ollects approximately 89% of child support payments via wage withholding, with over $2.5 million dollars passing through Virginia’s State Disbursement Unit on an average day.” Id.
[8] Va. Code Ann. § 63.2-1941 (2012).
[9] For an example, of Louisiana’s poster of most wanted non-paying parents see Louisiana’s Most Wanted, Dept. of Child and Family Serv., http://www.dss.state.la.us/index.cfm?md=pagebuilder&tmp=home&pid=163 (…cite just says 2012)
[10] Arlington County’s Sherriff’s Office initiated this program in 1996 in order to “more aggressively” ensure child support payment by those parents who “are seriously delinquent” in their obligated payments. Deadbeat Parents Wanted by Arlington County, ARLINGTONVA.US, http://www.arlingtonva.us/Departments/Sheriff/SheriffDeadbeatParents.aspx (last updated Sept. 14, 2012).
[11] Va. Code Ann. § 63.2-1940.1 (2003). Section 63.2-1940.1 Provides:
Publishing a most wanted delinquent parent list; coordinated arrests. The Division of Child Support Enforcement shall (i) publish at regular intervals a list of the most wanted delinquent parents as determined by the Commissioner together with arrearage information and other identifying information, including but not limited to, a photograph, occupation and last known address for the purpose of locating such delinquent parents and (ii) periodically conduct coordinated arrests of delinquent parents in conjunction with state and local criminal justice agencies pursuant to § 16.1-278.16.
[12]305 Ill. Comp. Stat. Ann. 5/10-17.13 (West 2007).Public Act 95-685 grants the state permission to work with municipalities to immobilize and impound cars belonging to deadbeat dads.” Kate Clements Cohorst, Deadbeat Dad Laws in Illinois, http://www.ehow.com/list_6453643_deadbeat-dad-laws-illinois.html#ixzz2BIT88fc6 (last updated 2012).
[13] The Associated Press, Pink and Blue Parking Boots to Greet Deadbeat Parents in Virginia (Jan. 4, 2000), http://cjonline.com/stories/010400/new_parkingwoes.shtml.
[14] The Associated Press, Pink and Blue Parking Boots to Greet Deadbeat Parents in Virginia (Jan. 4, 2000), http://cjonline.com/stories/010400/new_parkingwoes.shtml.
[15] 22 VA ADC 40-880-350 (2012).
[16] Id. Full text of 22 VAC ADC 40-880-350 (2012).Enforcement Remedies:
Distraint, seizure, and sale
A. The department may use distraint, including booting of vehicle, seizure and sale against the real or personal property of a noncustodial parent when:
1. There are arrears of at least $1,000 for a case with a current support obligation and at least $500 for an arrears-only case;
2. Conventional enforcement remedies have failed or are not appropriate; and
3. A lien has been filed pursuant to § 63.2-1927 of the Code of Virginia.
B. Assets targeted for distraint, including booting of vehicle, seizure and sale are:
1. Solely owned by the noncustodial parent.
2. Co-owned by the noncustodial parent and current spouse.
3. Owned by a business in which the noncustodial parent is the sole proprietor. Assets owned by business partnerships or corporations which are co-owned with someone other than a noncustodial parent's current spouse do not qualify for booting of vehicle, or seizure and sale.
C. The Director of the Division of Child Support Enforcement or his designee shall give final approval for the use of distraint, seizure and sale. This includes immobilizing a vehicle using vehicle boots.
D. When initiating booting, or seizure and sale of vehicle, the department shall check with the Department of Motor Vehicles for vehicles registered in the noncustodial parent's name, the address on the vehicle registration, and the name of any lien holder on the vehicle.
E. Once a lien has been filed pursuant to § 63.2-1927 of the Code of Virginia, the department shall send a notice of intent to the noncustodial parent before initiating distraint, including booting of vehicle, seizure and sale action. If there is reason to believe that the noncustodial parent will leave town or hide the asset, the asset can be seized without sending the notice and with proper documentation.
F. If the noncustodial parent contacts the department in response to the intent notice, the department shall request payment of arrears in full. The department shall negotiate a settlement if the noncustodial parent cannot pay the arrears in full. The least acceptable settlement is 5.0% of the arrearage owed or $500, whichever is greater, with additional monthly payments towards the arrears that will satisfy the arrearage within 10 years. The department may initiate distraint, including booting of vehicle, seizure and sale without further notice to the noncustodial parent if the noncustodial parent defaults on the payments as agreed.
G. The department shall send a fieri facias request to each county or city where a lien is filed and a levy is being executed if the noncustodial parent does not contact the department in response to the intent notice.
H. The department shall set a target date for seizure or booting and have the sheriff levy the property or boot the vehicle.
I. Once property has been seized or booted by the sheriff, the department must
(i) Reach a payment agreement with the noncustodial parent of 5.0% of the arrearage owed or $500, whichever is greater, with additional monthly payments towards the arrears that will satisfy the arrearage within 10 years and release the vehicle to the owner;
(ii) Proceed with the sale of the vehicle pursuant to § 63.2-1933 of the Code of Virginia, or
(iii) At the end of 90 days from the issuance of the writ of fieri facias, release the vehicle to the owner.
J. The department shall send a cancellation notice to the sheriff if a decision is made to terminate the seizure action before the asset is actually seized.
K. If the department sells an asset and it is a motor vehicle, the department shall notify the Department of Motor Vehicles to issue clear title to the new owner of the vehicle.
[18] Child Support and Gambling Winnings, Clinton Library 10 (2000), www.clintonlibrary.gov/.../647851-child-support-gambling-2.pdf (this authorless PDF is from Cynthia Rice’s files in the Clinton presidential records, but gives no publication reference).
[19] Regarding the Duties of the Department of Social Services, specifically: the authority to collect information regarding motor vehicles of those that have an obligation of child support. Va. Code Ann. § 20-88.53 (B)(4) (2005).
[20] VDSS Fact Sheet, supra note 5. 
[21] Id.
[22] The Associated Press, Pink and Blue Parking Boots to Greet Deadbeat Parents in Virginia (Jan. 4, 2000), http://cjonline.com/stories/010400/new_parkingwoes.shtml.
[23] Virginia Division Of Child Support Enforcement Total Collections: SFY 1993 - SFY 2009, Va. Dept. Soc. Serv. (2009-2012), http://www.dss.virginia.gov/geninfo/reports/children/child_support.cgi .
[24] The White House Office of the Press Secretary, New Responsible Fatherhood Initiative to Promote Work and Boost Child Support Payments, (Jan. 26, 2000), http://clinton4.nara.gov/WH/New/html/20000204.html.  

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