Federal Law and the Enforcement of Child Support Orders: A Critical Look at Subchapter 4 Part D of the Social Services Amendments of 1974


Over the past sixteen years, state and federal expenditures for welfare have been growing at escalating rates. During this time, expenditures have increased by over 800 percent from $1.02 billion in 1960 to $8 billion in 1974. Much of the money spent on welfare goes to Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) for the purpose of child support, with an estimated 80 percent of AFDC recipients receiving assistance because of a deserting parent. Between the years 1961 and 1973, the number of children eligible for AFDC because of a deserting parent more than tripled. These dramatic increases have been due in large part to weak enforcement of child support orders at the state, interstate and federal levels. Insufficient funding, crowded courts, and lack of interstate cooperation in support cases have all contributed to the enforcement problem.

Congress considered various proposals to deal with the tremendous escalation of state and federal welfare expenditures over the years, but it was notuntil 1975 that it enacted any legislation. On January 4, 1975, Subchapter 4, Part D of the Social Services Amendments of 1974 became law. For the first time, Congress provided a comprehensive scheme of child support enforcement procedures under federal law.

The stated purposes of 4D include the enforcement of support obligations, the location of absent parents, the establishment of paternity, and the obtaining of child support. The act provides for a federal parent locator service and proposes a method of operation. General requirements for state plans are followed by a detailed description of how proceeds are to be distributed, incentive payments are to be made to individuals, and how states are to be reimbursed. Provisions are made for incentive payments to complying states.”In addition, 4D permits the garnishment of wages of federal employees and authorizes federal court jurisdiction in certain circumstances without regard to the amount in controversy.

This Note will first examine the legislative history of 4D, and then look in detail at each of its major provisions, including those dealing with the establishment of a federal parent locator service, the role of the states as assignees of delinquent claims, and the responsibilities of the welfare parent and the delinquent obligor. It will next critically analyze some of the potential problems with 4D, including damage to the interests of the children if the parent on welfare is penalized, potential jurisdictional problems of the federal courts, in-creased administrative costs to the federal government and to the states, due process taking issues raised by the mandatory assignment of the welfare parent’s claim and violations of the right to privacy. Other problems will be explored, including: the lack of interagency cooperation in the early phases of the program, the danger of unwarranted expansion of individual files, the possibility that 4D will have a devastating effect on delinquent obligors and will further separate husbands and wives, and the possibility that state penalty provisions will hurt the mother.


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