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Unconscionable child support enforcement earns court rebuke

There are a variety of enforcement actions available against those that owe back child support in Pennsylvania. Some options include garnishment of wages, interception of federal and state tax returns, and even the threat of jail. In circumstances where an individual owes more than $2,500 in child support arrears, the U.S. Department of State will even freeze an individual's passport. That happened recently to one father from a southeastern state. However, it appears he did not even owe the amounts claimed.

In Dec. 2012, the ex wife filed an affidavit with the State's Attorney's Office attesting to the fact that her ex husband was behind in child support payments for more than $3,600. That office began litigation against the father and also notified the state's Department of Revenue. The Department then advised the child support office of the federal government, who notified the Department of State. As a result, the man was barred from renewing his passport, exposing his technology business to severe consequences because he is said to frequently travel to South America.

The case languished through the Florida judicial system before a judge met the issues head on. Determining that the State's Attorney's Office had overstepped its bounds and spawned unnecessary litigation, the judge ordered that office to evenly split the man's legal fees with the ex-wife. All told, the parties must reimburse the man for more than $15,000 in unnecessary legal fees.

There are certainly instances in Pennsylvania when strong enforcement measures are needed to collect child support arrears. However, it is also true that both custodial and noncustodial parents have rights under our laws, and each deserves to be treated fairly and impartially. In those instances where that is not the case, litigants may find a court will act to protect a party that is wronged. In the meantime, those parents who are simply unable to pay support orders due to a change in circumstances also have the opportunity to petition the court for a downward modification of future payments, based upon a showing of just cause.

Source: The Miami Herald, "Miami judge calls child support prosecutor's actions 'reprehensible'," David Ovalle, Feb. 7, 2013

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