Deadbeat dads and US travel restrictions
Joshua was petitioned by his wife Jessica, an American citizen, in 1994. After ten years of marriage, Joshua filed for divorce. The couple had three children, all still minors. The court ordered Joshua to pay child support in the amount of $1,500 per month.
For one year, Joshua paid his child support regularly. However, he was terminated from his employment and found it difficult to meet his child support obligations. He filed for modification of his payments and got a reduction of his monthly payment to half. But he was ordered to make arrangements to pay off child support arrearages in the amount of $12,000. Joshua did not comply with the modified payment order and paying his arrearages. In 2012, his unpaid child support payments amounted $25,000.
Depressed and unemployed, Joshua found solace in social media. Through Facebook, he found a long lost girlfriend in the Philippines. He decided to travel to the Philippines to meet her and then file a fiancé petition for her.
But when Joshua applied for a US passport it was denied. He was told a renewal of his US passport was problematic because he owed more than $25,000 in child support payments. Desperate to depart for the Philippines, Joshua, upon advice of his friends, applied for dual citizenship and was issued a Philippine passport. He traveled back to the Philippines and stayed with his sweetheart for more than three months. When he was about to return to the United States, he found himself with only a Philippine passport. He did not have a visa to return to the United States. Joshua applied again for a US passport. Will he be issued one by the state department despite his child support arrearages?
The US Department of State has a Passport Denial Program, which is part of the Federal “Offset Program.” This program is designed to help states enforce delinquent child support obligations. Parents certified by a state as having arrearages exceeding $2,500 are submitted by the Federal Office of Child Support Enforcement (OCSE) to the Department of State, which denies them US passports. This program has been in effect since October 1, 2006, as a penalty for deadbeat dads who owe court-ordered child support. They need to first settle their child support arrearages before taking a trip outside the United States.
Each of the 50 states maintains a child support enforcement agency for the purpose of obtaining, collecting and enforcing child support orders. In the State of California, the agency is called the California Department of Child Support Service (CSS). The court order of arrears is reported by this agency to the Health and Human Services who then forwards the information to the state department. The department will then refuse issuance of a passport unless in 90 days the applicant settles his child support arrearages.
So what is Joshua to do? Under the regulations restricting issuance of passports to the likes of Joshua, an exception is provided: Joshua could secure a limited passport only for direct return to the United States. He cannot use this passport for any other purpose.
The regulations that restrict issuance of passports to deadbeat dads withstood constitutional challenge because there is government interest in ensuring that those who do not pay child support obligations remain within the its jurisdictional authority. The exception allowing Joshua a limited passport back to the United States ensures that he will be within the jurisdiction of the courts to face, own up to, and hopefully address his child support obligations.
(Tancinco may be reached at [email protected] or at 8877177 or 7211963)
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