Passports and Child Protection

My vacation last week with my kids, our first trip outside the United States, nearly imploded due to a very good cause: Tighter U.S. passport restrictions. Although the new application procedures have caused headaches for millions of Americans and State Department employees (who are currently processing more than 500,000 applications per week to ease the backlog), the regulations directly benefit millions of American children.

Most of us have heard of the new rules requiring passports for Americans traveling to the U.S. from Mexico, Canada, the Caribbean and Latin America. But two other changes that regulate children's and parents' passports are designed to safeguard kids -- and they seem to be working.

The Passport Denial Program began in 1998 but is gaining widespread effectiveness. As reported in The New York Times Passport Rule Helps Collect Child Support (fee or subscription required), the State Department, working with the U.S. Department for Health and Human Services, denies passports to noncustodial parents who owe more than $2,500 in child support. Once parents make good on their debts, they are free to reapply for passports. So far in 2007, states report collecting $22.5 million through the Passport Denial Program. The money is forwarded to the parents who are owed child support. Overall, states collect about $24 billion per year on behalf of about 17 million children nationwide, according to the Times.

Another change in application procedures requires both parents to apply in person, with minor children under age 14, in order to secure a child's passport. If one parent has sole custody or adoptive custody, the adult must prove custody status. These regulations are designed to prevent international child abductions and passport fraud involving children.

This second regulation is what caught me. In 1997 when my first child was born, I quickly got his passport, not needing my husband's consent or presence. Ten years later, I blithely applied in the same fashion for all three kids, not knowing the rules had changed. The children's applications were rejected, and we needed to start the application process again less than three weeks before our first international trip with our kids. Luckily, we got the kids' passports -- 10 days before our plane left. The anxiety and multiple family trips to various passport offices was a tiny price to pay for a program that helps protect kids who cannot protect themselves.

By Leslie Morgan Steiner |  September 5, 2007; 6:30 AM ET  | Category:  Conflicts
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I can see where that second law could result in yet another opportunity for separated spouses to play the vindictive game against each other, by not showing up or not signing the child's visa application. I know several separated couples where this could happen; the children are used as pawns by one or both parent and it isn't a pretty sight.

Posted by: johnl | September 5, 2007 6:50 AM

Part of the backstory here is that the head of the passport agency who instituted these rules is a woman who is particularly concerned about children's rights. Good for her, helping those who don't have the power to protect themselves.

Posted by: leslie4 | September 5, 2007 7:19 AM

Next up, denying parents the right to breathe unless all the desires of any vindictive (ex) spouse are satisfied.

I am glad that we sharks live only by the "rules of the jungle."

Posted by: nonamehere | September 5, 2007 7:53 AM

We encountered the second rule as part of acquiring a passport for my daughter prior to our move overseas. I can't tell you what a pain it is to tote your 10 month old baby down to the passport agency, but I also completely support the rationale behind it.

Posted by: viennamom | September 5, 2007 8:14 AM

timely note Leslie. I went and checked our passports. My husband's ran out in June and mine runs out next year. I suppose it is time to renew!

Posted by: dotted_1 | September 5, 2007 8:25 AM

For several years, my mom worked with an agency that advocated for the rights of missing, abducted, and exploited children. Her focus was on parents who abduct their own children when the other parent had custody. She'll be happy to know about this legislation! It seems like a step in the right direction.

The fact that some unsavory and bitter people can bend the laws in their favor does not tarnish the laws themselves. To make a comparison, I don't know that anyone would argue that we get rid of court appeals just because criminals can draw them out for years to avoid death row. And if you think about the consequences of the law for the lawful (having to reschedule an international trip) versus the consequence for the criminal (forcing him/her to pay back child support and preventing child abduction), it hardly seems worthy of complaint.

Posted by: Meesh | September 5, 2007 8:25 AM

In some "underdeveloped" countries, each time a parent wants to travel abroad with a child and the other parent is not traveling, both parents must appear (within 7 days of departure) before a judge and sign a letter that shows that the non-traveling parent authorizes the child's trip. My children are citizens of one such country and we went through this procedure many times when I would bring the kids to the States to visit grandparents. This seems like a hassle but it is actually very wise. A child's passport is good for 5 years and a bad parent can whisk a child out of the United States without any prior permission from the other parent during those 5 years. The US has many many cases of child abductions with one parent taking kids abroad before the spouse even realizes that a parent with joint custody is contemplating such a terrible act. I think passport/travel laws for children are actually too lax.

Posted by: samclare | September 5, 2007 8:32 AM

Meesh, I'm not so blithe about your lawful/criminal comparison. Too many people are put on the owe-child-support list that shouldn't be for a variety of reasons. The county systems aren't updated as well as they should/could be and putting federal law at the mercy of these poor county systems seems draconian at best.

Posted by: dotted_1 | September 5, 2007 8:33 AM

OK, there is at least one foreign country (hint: its national slogan used to be, "Heil Hitler!") where, if a parent can get her child out of the USA and into that country, that country's courts will ignore any American court order with respect to child custody and visitation for the other parent. The best way to protect against this sort of international lawlessness is precisely the kind of passport rule that Leslie Steiner '87 describes today. If a parent can't get her child out of the USA without a passport, and both parents have to show up in person to apply for that passport, then the child is going to stay in the USA, where both parents are subject to court orders that will be enforced in all fifty States. It is wonderful when the American government makes and enforces laws that protect Americans. Now, if only the American government would do the same thing in the areas of job offshoring & outsourcing (so-called "free trade") and undocumented worker control, Americans might once again be able to earn enough to support a family on one income.

Posted by: MattInAberdeen | September 5, 2007 8:43 AM

«Another change in application procedures requires both parents to apply in person, with minor children under age 14, in order to secure a child's passport.»
«By Leslie Morgan Steiner | September 5, 2007; 6:30 AM ET»

This law, it stops one bad parent, but what if both parents, they are bad, they want to take little daughter from America to Africa, they want AGM «African Genital Mutilation» for her? AGM, it is illegal in America, it is illegal in Europe, it is however a custom in parts of Africa, some bad parents take daughters to Africa, old ladies hurt little girls with knives, barbarism, savagery, European crusader imperialists, they never stamped out AGM as they stamped out cannibalism. Little girls, they need another law, make doctors examine little girls before they are taken to Africa, also after they return to America, if girl has been cut with AGM, parents get arrested, they are judged («juzgado» in Spanish), locked up in hoosegow for years, word will get out, American girls will be safe from AGM.

Posted by: abu_ibrahim | September 5, 2007 8:56 AM

The second law cuts both ways. When I worked for the Toronto company, I got to be familiar with it, because several times during the summer I'd go up for a couple of weeks of work and then have DW and the kids join me for several days. Apparently it used to be (maybe still is?) fairly common for one parent to take a child and run to Canada to avoid custodial arrangements. Canadian Immigration was very sensitive to it. If one US parent shows up with a child at the border, the Canadian officials start asking a lot of questions.

The first time DW flew up with four kids (and they all had passports, even though they weren't required in those days), she spent 30 minutes convincing Canadian Immigration that not only did the kids' father approve of them making this trip, he was waiting for them RIGHT OUTSIDE THAT DOOR OVER THERE! Finally, an official came out to the lobby, found me, verified who I was and let them in the country. After that there was probably some kind of a record that "yeah, this has happened before" because she didn't have that much trouble, although there was always some level of questioning.

So the problem of one parent grabbing the kids and then running over the border exists to the extent that at least one other country is concerned about it.

On the other hand - some friends of mine recently got divorced. She got custody of the kids. She was born and grew up in Korea; family is still there. When they were married, they took a family trip to Korea every two years. She wanted to continue that. No, not going to happen - because he refuses to sign the paperwork to renew the kids' passports. She tried going to court to convince them to either force him to sign the papers or let her get the passports without his approval. He argued that now that they're divorced he's afraid they won't come back. The bottom line is that those kids aren't leaving the US again until they're 18. If the family in Korea wants to see them, they can darned well come here.

Posted by: ArmyBrat | September 5, 2007 8:58 AM

I have never heard of someone being falsely accused of owing back child support payments when they didn't. Please give concrete examples before I accuse you of extreme, extreme liberalism!

This country goes too far in protecting those already in power, such as adults vs. children. Children have so little control over their own well-being when their parents divorce. Children have to shuttle back and forth between their parents' houses and accomodate their parents' schedules and lives...etc etc etc...you see very few parents accomodating their children. A visit to the passport office 7 days before a trip seems a very small price for adults to pay so that children receive the protection and support they deserve.

Posted by: leslie4 | September 5, 2007 8:58 AM

I'm still thinking about this one. OrganicKid's dad and I have a pretty decent relationship, we have never tried to use her to either of our advantage. But practically speaking, it would be pretty difficult for both of us to show up in person somewhere to apply for a passport. Not because we wouldn't want to, but because we live 5 hours apart. We're seldom in a city at the same time during working hours where we could do this. I know if I asked him for his okay to get OrganicKid a passport, there wouldn't be any problem (he'd actually probably be relieved that I'm taking care of it!), and he'd be willing to sign any sort of notarized documentation attesting to his agreement. But getting me from the Triangle to Charleston, or him from there to here during hours the post office is open is nearly impossible! Any suggestions?

Posted by: OrganicGal | September 5, 2007 9:22 AM

OrganicGal,

I am pretty sure that you do not have to go to your local post office. I know that many county courthouses can take applications. Maybe you can meet somewhere between? Look at this website for locations of passport facilities

http://iafdb.travel.state.gov/

Posted by: Fred | September 5, 2007 9:30 AM

OrganicGal:

There's an exception - you can get a notarized document from the post office and have dad fill it out and have it notarized - giving his approval for the passport. I had to do it when my husband's job sent him away for 4 months - he was only home on weekends when passport/post office wasn't open.

Amelia

Posted by: jdavoli | September 5, 2007 9:31 AM

My husband was accussed of not paying child support several times over the last 14 years when he actually paid. Two times we had our tax refunds taken from us. It took months to get it straightened out both times. One strange thing we ran into was the local "county" child support office was not allowed to look into any paper files. Everything had to be in the computer. The computer was always blamed for making mistakes and it was never said that the information wasn't put in correctly. We would get letter that "the computer sent" and no human had ever looked at. Or so we were told. Another annoying thing was the letters stating he owed back child support would always arrive Friday so there was no one available to take to until Monday. It made for some great weekends.

Posted by: charlotte2 | September 5, 2007 9:41 AM

Amelia had a better answer. The form she is referring to is DS-3053.

Look at http://travel.state.gov/passport/get/first/first_830.html for how to apply for anyone.


As I say, you don't need to go to the post office necessarily there are many more places which take applications. Frieda (and son) went to our local courthouse.

Posted by: Fred | September 5, 2007 9:51 AM

Hmm, A topic I have utterly no interest in. A nice day for a break form OB. Enjoy your chatting.

Posted by: pATRICK | September 5, 2007 10:24 AM

Years ago, my husband, stepdaughter and I planned to spend Christmas in France. This involved much pleading with her egg donor to be allowed to take her out of the country. She finally acquiesced, and we were all set for a holiday vacation to remember. Two weeks before we were set to leave, my husband asked for my stepdaughter's passport. It had gone "missing" and we were assured egg donor was "frantic" looking for it. A week passed, and still no sign of the missing passport. We asked to take stepdaughter out of school for the day and go where we could get the passport in one day, but no, egg donor said she simply could not miss school for that. (Even though she'd allowed her school age daughters one "R&R" day a month since 6th grade.) Stepdaughter was devastated to not be allowed to go, furious with us(!), furious with life. We went without her. It was not the same. We were in Seguret on 12/27 when she discovered the passport in egg donor's underwear drawer. And that's my horror story about passports. Just because you've got permission from the custodial parent doesn't mean you'll actually get to go.

We just got them for our entire family (stepdaughter included) about a month ago. You never know when you'll get a great deal on airfare.

Posted by: WorkingMomX | September 5, 2007 10:27 AM

OK, there is at least one foreign country (hint: its national slogan used to be, "Heil Hitler!") where, if a parent can get her child out of the USA and into that country, that country's courts will ignore any American court order with respect to child custody and visitation for the other parent. The best way to protect against this sort of international lawlessness is precisely the kind of passport rule that Leslie Steiner '87 describes today. If a parent can't get her child out of the USA without a passport, and both parents have to show up in person to apply for that passport, then the child is going to stay in the USA, where both parents are subject to court orders that will be enforced in all fifty States. It is wonderful when the American government makes and enforces laws that protect Americans. Now, if only the American government would do the same thing in the areas of job offshoring & outsourcing (so-called "free trade") and undocumented worker control, Americans might once again be able to earn enough to support a family on one income.

Posted by: MattInAberdeen | September 5, 2007 08:43 AM

I'm pretty sure that's only if the parent and child are German citizens, or have dual citizenship. Same could be said for this country, if one parent is an american citizen and so is the child, that parent can come to the US and we won't enforce other country's custody laws, only our own. Think of Elian? Finally got it through our thick skulls that a father's rights trump Grandparents' rights, even if the father IS a communist.

Posted by: _Miles | September 5, 2007 10:45 AM

Needless to say, the laws only apply if both parents are US citizens -- other people can get their kids' passports from their US Embassy! Then take them back to their own country.
What a tragedy it is that people will selfishly take a child away to another country, never to see their other parent again.

Posted by: dc_ca_2004 | September 5, 2007 10:53 AM

Nice of you to come by anyway, pATRICK.

If there is anything of interest at all to anyone who has children, it is this. You probably should obtain a passport for all your children now rather later. The passports are good for a few years, better to have one now than the hassle later. The rules for entering and exiting this country will be more stringent in the near future--this includes trips to Canada, Mexico, the Caribbean, and Bermuda. This is mandated by the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative and more requirements for passports will be in effect in 2008.

Posted by: Fred | September 5, 2007 11:04 AM

How in the world did you get your child's passport processed so quickly, Leslie? Both my husband and I applied for our daughter's passport in person and paid for it to be expedited almost 7 weeks before our trip to Europe this summer. We didn't get it until 23 hours before our flight, and that was only because we called the passport office here in DC at least half a dozen times and spent hours down there in person to get it. So frustrating!

Posted by: plawrimore1 | September 5, 2007 11:10 AM

I completely agree with the second law, although it doesn't always work. One of my sisters is divorced from her Arab husband and he's threatend to kidnap their 11 year old daughter numerous times starting when she was 10 weeks old. My sister and my niece live in constant fear so any law that will help protect children like her has my support. My biggest hope is that more will be done in the future to prevent international child abductions.

Posted by: virginia82 | September 5, 2007 11:12 AM

Same could be said for this country, if one parent is an american citizen and so is the child, that parent can come to the US and we won't enforce other country's custody laws, only our own. Think of Elian? Finally got it through our thick skulls that a father's rights trump Grandparents' rights, even if the father IS a communist.

Posted by: _Miles | September 5, 2007 10:45 AM

This broad statement is not correct. It depends on the country. The US has treaties in place with many countries that require each of us to honor each others' laws. Cuba? Not so much.

Posted by: gcoward | September 5, 2007 11:29 AM

"And if you think about the consequences of the law for the lawful (having to reschedule an international trip) versus the consequence for the criminal (forcing him/her to pay back child support and preventing child abduction), it hardly seems worthy of complaint."

I have to disagree. Why should a law-abiding citizen have to take on the significant expense and inconvenience of rescheduling an international trip when s/he didn't do anything wrong?

I won't blithely allow myself to take on that burden just because *other* people are doing something wrong.

Let the state think of some way to collect delinquent child support that doesn't put the burden on me, because I have nothing to do with any child support problems.

Posted by: mccxxiii | September 5, 2007 11:42 AM

Leslie writes:
"I have never heard of someone being falsely accused of owing back child support payments when they didn't. Please give concrete examples before I accuse you of extreme, extreme liberalism!"

So, during a really boring conference call that wasted an hour of my life, I called my old buddy Google.

Some results:

http://www.facenj.org/stats/cs/ACFC-CS.HTM

- A 2000 survey of the "American Coalition for Fathers and Children" - not necessarily an unbiased source, admittedly, but it includes some results:
--17. While paying the custodial parent directly, 22.9 % of child support payers have been billed by a child support agency for child support already paid (and can be proven paid) because the child was on welfare without the CHILD SUPPORT PAYER being notified; this is not a problem in 77.1 % of cases.
--21. # In 43.0 % of cases, the CHILD SUPPORT PAYER has been subjected to punitive measures as a result of a billing error; in 57.0 % of cases, s/he has not.
--22. These punitive measures are as follows: lien on property (19.5 %), wage garnishment (26.7 %), loss of driver's license (1.5 %), income tax refund interception (15.9 %), negative credit report (6.7 %), seizure of bank accounts or other assets (3.1 %) and other (26.7 %).

The State of Wisconsin has a site http://www.dwd.state.wi.us/dwd/publications/dws/child_support/dwsc_864_p_4.htm that among other things discusses the passport denial rule, AND tells you what to do if you're marked as owing child support in error.

There are dozens of other results; the bottom line is that no complex system is perfect and anyone who designs complex systems understands that there will be some errors and thus there needs to be an allowance for such errors.

I'll agree that such errors are reasonably rare; and that number of people who aren't paying required child support is large compared to those listed in error as not paying it; but to make the assertion that you've never heard of it ever happening, even once, is pretty naive.

Posted by: ArmyBrat | September 5, 2007 11:53 AM

Question for the lawyers in our midst:

Is having a passport a legal right, or(like a driver's license) merely a privilege? What would be the implications in terms of matters like collecting back child support?

Posted by: mehitabel | September 5, 2007 11:53 AM

Ummmm...Leslie...you want some concrete examples. Here are two.

Instance 1: Here is a concrete example and it happens everyday. In Allegheny county in PA, the CS payor must get a court date to officially end CS to the payee. Don't ask me why, but CS services wants a court order to stop. One can't file for the court date until the child is legally an adult. The delay for a court date can easily be 6 months or longer. Meanwhile, CS must still be paid according to CS services. Now you have a court order that says pay until the child is 18. The child is 18. But you don't have a court order to actually stop yet. During those months between the time the adult is 18 and the actual court date, the payor will show up on the list as owing CS when no CS is actually due.

Instance 2: if not automatically garnished, CS payments are entered by hand into the computers. Need I go further as to what can go wrong here???? County courts make many errors all the time because of this.

Posted by: dotted_1 | September 5, 2007 12:02 PM

"Same could be said for this country, if one parent is an american citizen and so is the child, that parent can come to the US and we won't enforce other country's custody laws, only our own."

Posted by: _Miles | September 5, 2007 10:45 AM

"This broad statement is not correct. It depends on the country. The US has treaties in place with many countries that require each of us to honor each others' laws."

Posted by: gcoward | September 5, 2007 11:29 AM

And what happens when the foreign country's courts ignore those treaties? Maybe the same Agency that abducts terrorist suspects for "extraordinary rendition" could send some of its agents abroad to recover American children who are being held overseas by parents in violation of valid U.S. court orders. Just a thought -- put our tax dollars to work for us.

Posted by: MattInAberdeen | September 5, 2007 12:10 PM

Totally off-topic question: Leslie, you write for the Washington Post. Have you ever cited to a Wash Post article? Is the NY Times paying you? If not, why are your topics almost always taken from the NY Times? I have nothing against that paper, but I'm starting to wonder if you even read the very (excellent) paper you write a blog for. And does the Washington Post have nothing to say about this?

Posted by: CreamOfTheCrop | September 5, 2007 12:13 PM

This has been one of the most informative blogs to date--thanks Leslie. I do need to get my daughter a passport, and this is helpful.

I read the NYT story about the passport being tied to child support collection efforts, and I definitely applaud this effort. It's resulting in billions of dollars being collected from deadbeats. The article cited one individual having to pay more than $300,000 to get his passport to travel for business. How he was not having his wages garnished was not disclosed.

Yes, sometimes parents who pay child support will get caught up in red tape, and they must untangle these problems. But unfortunately it simply goes along with the territory when you get divorced (my ex-husband pays no child support--he left the country a few years ago). I had a friend who was told he owed thousands in back child support. He was stunned. When he got the paperwork, he realized the state had been charging him for a child who died when he was two years old. Talk about adding insult to injury...

Posted by: pepperjade | September 5, 2007 12:24 PM

"Is having a passport a legal right, or(like a driver's license) merely a privilege? What would be the implications in terms of matters like collecting back child support?"

Mehitabel, as far as I recall, you do not have an absolute right to a passport, but neither can the Department of State deny you one arbitrarily. There are certain grounds on which a passport can be denied; there is an administrative process by which you can challenge a denial; and limited review by a court after that. The whole process is governed by statute and regulations.

Posted by: LizaBean | September 5, 2007 12:27 PM

"Is having a passport a legal right, or (like a driver's license) merely a privilege? What would be the implications in terms of matters like collecting back child support?"

Posted by: mehitabel | September 5, 2007 11:53 AM

"The whole process is governed by statute and regulations."

Posted by: LizaBean | September 5, 2007 12:27 PM

Well, it sure ain't an absolute *legal* right, seeing as how Congress passed a Federal law (42 USC §652(k)) that orders the State Department to deny passports to folks who owe more than a specified amount of back child support, and the State Department wrote regulations (the numbers change, but I think it's 22 CFR 51.60(a)(2) today) that implement the law. The interesting question is whether the right to travel outside the country is a *Constitutional* right. If it were, then Congress's law would be unconstitutional, and the State Department would not be allowed to deny passports to people owing too much back child support. Since a passport is required in order to leave the country, the right to a passport is connected with the right to travel outside the country.

It turns out that as far back as the Magna Carta (1215), it was established that subjects had "a right to leave the kingdom and return. The exceptions to the right to travel abroad in Magna Carta were for 'those imprisoned or outlawed' and for 'a short period in time of war,' a public policy reason relating to national security." "[a] murderer who had done her time can get a passport. But a person delinquent in paying child support is punished by denial of a passport. All debtors should pay their debts. Debts for child support have special moral force. But that does not justify tossing away a constitutional liberty so important that it has been a constant of Anglo-American law since Magna Carta, and of civilized thought since Plato."

Unfortunately for you deadbeat dads, this reasoning is from Judge Kleinfeld's *dissent* in the case of Eunique v. Powell, 302 F.3d 971, 974 (9th Cir. 2002). According to the majority opinion in the 9th Circuit, the "right to international travel" is so flimsy that it can be restricted if the Government has a mere rational basis for doing so. And there is plenty of rational basis -- so-and-so many billions of $$$ owed in back child support. So the Passport Denial Rule is Constitutional -- unless one of this blog's lawyers can find a Supreme Court case overturning the Eunique case -- and Eudene Eunique (a deadbeat mom, by the way!) didn't get her passport. So much for the Magna Carta and Plato.

Posted by: MattInAberdeen | September 5, 2007 12:45 PM

In other words, what LizaBean said, but with a lot of stuff to make you all think I'm smart and wonder who exactly this MattinAberdeen character is.

Posted by: nobodyknowhow | September 5, 2007 12:50 PM

"Ten years later, I blithely applied in the same fashion for all three kids, not knowing the rules had changed"

The rules are printed and easy to read. If you can't read (or choose not to), it's your own darn fault.

Posted by: r6345 | September 5, 2007 12:52 PM

Umm - Leslie wrote

"So far in 2007, states report collecting $22.5 million through the Passport Denial Program. "

and pepperjade wrote

"I read the NYT story about the passport being tied to child support collection efforts, and I definitely applaud this effort. It's resulting in billions of dollars being collected from deadbeats."

A bit inconsistent, no? What's the real number? I'd be stunned if it's "billions."

Posted by: ArmyBrat | September 5, 2007 12:54 PM

wonder who exactly this MattinAberdeen character is.

Posted by: nobodyknowhow | September 5, 2007 12:50 PM

Right character but wrong question, nobodyknowhow. The real question is why does Matt from A. know so much about this?
(personal experience?)

Posted by: nonamehere | September 5, 2007 12:57 PM

"Is having a passport a legal right, or(like a driver's license) merely a privilege? What would be the implications in terms of matters like collecting back child support?"

Mehitabel -- I think there are two issues here, the administrative and constitutional ones. LizaBean is right about the administrative procedures -- you do have certain rights granted by statute and regulation that they can't mess with. But beyond that, there may be constitutional rights that render those statutes and regulations themselves unlawful.

One of those rights I remember from law school is a constitutional right to travel, which only a limited number of very significant public interests can override (like, say, national security). Something like requiring two parents to sign the application likely wouldn't run afoul of this provision, because it's just an administrative nuisance. But I suspect prohibiting the issuance of a passport to an adult just because they owe child support might cross the line.

Of course, this all depends on where this right springs from, which of course I forget -- some rights are blanket rights vested in individuals, which no government can mess with; but other "rights" are drawn from provisions that basically prohibit individual states from mucking about, which means your state can't prevent something, but the feds could.

Posted by: laura33 | September 5, 2007 1:00 PM

"LizaBean is right about the administrative procedures -- you do have certain rights granted by statute and regulation that they can't mess with. But beyond that, there may be constitutional rights that render those statutes and regulations themselves unlawful."

Laura, very true. I was rushing a bit, but meant to convey that from what I recall your right, under the constitution, extends only to the point that the government cannot deny your passport arbitrarily - either without a rational basis or in a discriminatory fashion. But I could be wrong on that, it was something I only ever came across tangentially and I may be remembering incorrectly.

Posted by: LizaBean | September 5, 2007 1:34 PM

Thank you Army Brat and others for your examples of falsely accused deadbeat dads. Truly, I didn't know of any. Now I do!

And Cream of the Crop, your post made me howl. Because of course if I only cited Wash Post articles people would accuse me of bias too.

FYI: I read the Wash Post, NYT, WSJ and People Magazine faithfully. I try to cite different publications but find that these four cover a lot of ground pretty well. And I LOVE it when posters send me good articles from other publications.

And frankly, although I think the NYT coverage of working vs. stay-at-home mom stuff is shockingly skewed, I think the Wash Post falls down by not covering the issues facing women nearly enough. Ruth Marcus and Amy Joyce are notable exceptions, but I think the Post could do a far better job of reporting on the critical problems, solutions and joys facing women in America today. My suspicion is that many editors at the Post write off these issues as marginal or "fluff" because they have a super serious "it's not Watergate" male chauvinist view of most issues that are serious in women's daily lives.

Posted by: leslie4 | September 5, 2007 1:40 PM

Have they actually changed the information on children's passports to LIST THE NAMES OF THE PARENTS? I was shocked when I realized my daughter's passport, issued in 2003, didn't include a parent's name. Anyone who secured her passport could take her out of the country and into another.

Posted by: SolontheGreat | September 5, 2007 1:42 PM

leslie | September 5, 2007 08:58 AM

Leslie - Just because you have not heard of something does not mean that it does not happen.

Several years ago my then fiance had the military deduct his child support payments and send them directly to his ex-wife. At one point she went to apply for welfare for herself and the state that she lived in decided that because the military was deducting the money and providing directly to her that my fiance was not paying child support. This took almost 2 years and thousands of dollars in legal fees to get this straightened out as the state claimed he owed well over 100k in back child support. And yes from day 1 the military provided the pay records showing the deductions and the cancelled checks to his ex proving she recieved the money.

So yes errors in the child support system happen and I would bet they are more regular than not.

Posted by: noname1 | September 5, 2007 1:44 PM

Umm - Leslie wrote

"So far in 2007, states report collecting $22.5 million through the Passport Denial Program. "

and pepperjade wrote

"I read the NYT story about the passport being tied to child support collection efforts, and I definitely applaud this effort. It's resulting in billions of dollars being collected from deadbeats."

A bit inconsistent, no? What's the real number? I'd be stunned if it's "billions."

Posted by: ArmyBrat | September 5, 2007 12:54 PM

I don't know what the real number is but I think the $22.5 million was only for 2007 thus far. Maybe billions is overall since they started inacting this policy. I believe it's been around for a number of years.

Posted by: rockvillemom | September 5, 2007 1:53 PM

I have an absolute horror story about trying to get the passports for my kids over the summer....

May 18th my husband and I took all seven of our kids out of school and to the local courthouse to apply for our passports. Our trip is scheduled for the end of September but we wanted plenty of time to apply and get our passports. We filled out all the applications, took all the kids to the courthouse, paid each application with its own check and then went to lunch and took the kids to school.

We waited and watched and one of the checks never cleared the bank. We watched and watched and nothing, meanwhile all the other checks cleared and the applications became trackable online except for the one-the only one out of the eight applications. After about 6 weeks I called the state department passport number and I was on hold for 48 minutes-the first question the answerer asked me was the date of travel and when I told her it was end of September she hung up on me saying "we only are helping those with travel dates in the next two weeks". So fuming, I called the local court house and talked to the clerk who processed us in May. She was very helpful and started looking into this one passport, which had been #6 of the eight. She called back and said it was never received, it is gone, you must start over (mid-July) for this one passport.

So now my daughter has gotten horribly sick and I am running back and forth to the doctor trying to get her diagnosed and she is in no condition to have her picture taken for the new application not to mention I have to get a new birth certificate for her to turn in with application number two. So finally it all comes together, we get the daughter better, we get the picture, the application, the husband and I to the courthouse and get the second one expidited. We turned in the second application on a Thursday in July. The following Wednesday I received in my mail my daughters ORIGINAL passport completed with the original picture, orginal birth certificate completely by itself! No other passports, no letter of where it is, or why it ended up being processed at a place it shouldn't have gone. It was the weirdest thing! So I called my contact lady at the courthouse and told her and she flipped out--meanwhile the check still has never cleared the bank and now we need to figure out what happens to the second application. She made a bunch of phone calls and they kept trying to say it was the second application (which was still in transit). Needless to say the whole thing has been a stressful mess and has been referred to the head of the passport office for my location. I still haven't gotten my money back from the second application, but they returned the pictures and documents with an abandon and refund order. The checks, both checks, cleared the bank on the same day nine weeks after the original application date.

The whole thing was just a disorganized mess, and what makes me worry is these people are in charge of our security. So, sorry to rant, but this is one of those things that makes you crazy.

Posted by: magnificent7mom | September 5, 2007 2:03 PM

Ah, here we go - USA Today ran an article last month (August 14)http://www.usatoday.com/news/washington/2007-08-14-passport-scofflaws_N.htm

- the $24 billion is total collected by Government agencies through all programs, of which the vast majority - $20.1 billion - comes from payroll withholding - i.e., garnishing wages.

- as of 14 August, it was $22.5 million collected through the passport denial program itself. That's the same amount collected in all of 2006. (It's also a conservative estimate, because not all states report child support collected.)

Given that the program only started in 1998, it's likely that the total collected is far short of even one billion.

Posted by: ArmyBrat | September 5, 2007 2:10 PM

"One of those rights I remember from law school is a constitutional right to travel, which only a limited number of very significant public interests can override (like, say, national security). . . . . But I suspect prohibiting the issuance of a passport to an adult just because they owe child support might cross the line."

Posted by: laura | September 5, 2007 01:00 PM

That's what I suspected, too. I mean, the Aptheker case established that the Government cannot deny a passport to someone just because he's a Commie. But I was wrong. Read the Eunique case:

http://www.ca9.uscourts.gov/ca9/newopinions.nsf/4142DCC83BE2459288256C1E0002C51F/$file/9956984.pdf?openelement

One of the three judges held that restricting international travel required only a rational basis. A second judge held that it required "intermediate scrutiny," whatever that is, but that the Passport Denial Rule met the intermediate scrutiny standard. The third judge dissented.

Amazingly, this 2-1 ruling was by the fabled Ninth Circuit, supposedly the ultra-liberal champion of civil liberties. I guess when civil liberties conflict with recovering mucho dinero from evil ex-husbands, civil liberties take second place. For what it's worth, the deadbeat mom, Eudene Eunique, was (heh-heh) a Lawyer.

Posted by: MattInAberdeen | September 5, 2007 2:15 PM

2:20 pm and less than 50 posts - must be some kind of record for this blog...

Posted by: hillary1 | September 5, 2007 2:21 PM

Tell me, please, how these laws protect children? So far as I can tell, PARENTS have to consent, not children. So if your parents want to ship you off to Tranquility Bay for psychic murder, or haul you off somewhere for genital mutilation or subjection to Islamic law, this won't stop them.

Moreover, notice that these laws treat noncustodial parents as ATMs: If the noncustodial parent hasn't paid child support, HE can't leave the country--but if the custodial parent wants to deprive the child of a relationship with his or her other parent, SHE can take the kid overseas to do so. Or she can ship the kid to Tranquility Bay, haul the kid off to some oppressive culture, etc. (Swap the pronouns if you come across a case where it's necessary--the injustice is the same either way.)

Posted by: philautos | September 5, 2007 2:24 PM

Magnificent7Mom, that is one crazy story. Did you get the rest of the passports? Good thing you applied so early...

Posted by: LizaBean | September 5, 2007 3:42 PM

my husband's credit score was affected for years by a CS report saying he owed money, when he has a court order saying he didn't. The accounting system was just in error. Try to explain that to a mortgage officer! And then trying to remove it from the credit report took years as it kept reappearing. I'm not even sure if it is still there even as I type.

Posted by: dotted_1 | September 5, 2007 4:00 PM

Dotted_1 -- no wonder you are upset. Thanks to you and others for sharing the downside of the child support system. I'm sorry to hear about these problems...but appreciate all of you enlightening those of us who had no idea.

Posted by: leslie4 | September 5, 2007 4:03 PM

eh, I'm not upset. Just very wary of interlocking systems that were not designed to be interlocking in the first place.

Posted by: dotted_1 | September 5, 2007 4:15 PM

dotted_1

"my husband's credit score was affected for years by a CS report saying he owed money, when he has a court order saying he didn't. The accounting system was just in error"

Errors in the system can also block applying for/renewing a driver's license.

Posted by: hillary1 | September 5, 2007 4:18 PM

Thats a good point hillary. In VA you can lose your license if you have back child support. Not sure what the thresholds are for that but it is one of the many threats that appear in the communications from the state.

Posted by: noname1 | September 5, 2007 4:24 PM

Leslie,

I actually have a friend who has been falsely accused of not paying child support. Essentially, her ex filed paperwork with the Texas Att. General stating that she has never paid (this is for a period of 5 years). Because she paid him via either check or direct deposit of cash into his checking account (instead of having it come out of her Utah paycheck, a very unwise move), Texas has no record of her payment. She can "prove' with cancelled checks about 4 1/2 years worth of the payments, but needs her EX's account statements to prove the cash deposits for the rest. Her Texas lawyer, has filed paperwork to force him to comply and reveal his records, but meanwhile she is losing 75% of her income as "back child support payments" since her ex claims she owes him over $75,000. Now, while I admit(as does my friend that she wasn't too smart), the fact remains that she did pay, he lied and she has to pay to undo the damage, a process that has already consumed 9 months.

So, my long winded point is that people can be falsely accused.

Posted by: kbmoore | September 5, 2007 4:26 PM

Hillary, since it goes in/out of report, it is always a cr*pshoot as what will happen.

basically, once you've been stung unfairly, you never trust these panderings again.

Posted by: dotted_1 | September 5, 2007 4:34 PM

Actually, it seems like the problem stems with the child support people and not with the rule of enforcing child support in order to get a passport. I feel badly for the people who are wrongly accused of back child support but I still think the rules are in place for a reason. Some people would rather run from the law then pay child support. I think having rules that forces them to pay the owed child support is a good thing in the long run. Let's work harder and making sure the mistakes don't happen in the data rather then blaming the passport rules. I think whenever there are custody issues, there always people who will take advantage of the system. Overall, I support changes in passports system because it seemed too easy to get one in the past. I had my passport sent back after I got married. I try to reissue mine with a name change. I supplied the official marriage license from VA which came from the circuit court. But the passport people sent it back asking for additional evidence-a copy of my driver's license. It was annoying but worth hassle. I would rather more red tape for all of us-if it helps stop crimminals from getting one.

Posted by: foamgnome | September 5, 2007 8:49 PM

"It's a myth that we 'should' live on one income."
Posted by: atlmom1234 | September 6, 2007 11:33 AM

Who said we "should" live on one income? I said that if our government would curb what I believe to be unfair low-wage competition from overseas and from undocumented workers here, "Americans might once again be able to earn enough to support a family on one income."

"Yes, it's NICE when we can. But saying that it's something someone should fix, so we can, is not a great concept. Living is what it is, and cost what it costs, and that's the way it is." (atlmom1234)

I disagree. In the 1890s, mill and mine owners paid men so little that not only did their wives have to work, their children also had to work in the sweatshops. My Aunt Jessie started at age 12 at the sewing machine, my Uncle Sam not much older at the cutting machine. If the workers had resigned themselves to saying, "Living is what it is, and cost what it costs, and that's the way it is," we would still have child labor (as they have today in India) and sweatshop labor (as they have today in Red China). Instead of sitting there and taking it, workers did two things. First, they organized into Unions. Second, they fought in the political arena until they won a Federal right to make the bosses bargain with those Unions.

If pay were so low today that the income of 12-year-old children were necessary to pay the rent and the grocery bill, would you still be saying, "that's the way it is," and it's not "something we should fix"? There are areas in Baltimore where 10-year-old kid earns $100 by acting as lookout to warn dope dealers that the cops are coming, and that $100 is vital to his family's income. Shouldn't we try to fix things so the kid doesn't have to do that? And if some families' idea of "balance" is one parent working outside the home and the other parent staying home, should unfair low-wage competition be able to force them into the two-earner model?

Posted by: MattInAberdeen | September 6, 2007 12:56 PM

As someone who is in the business of collecting child support, I was thrilled to receive a link to Leslie's site from the director of the Pennsylvania Bureau of Child Support Enforcement. He periodically emails to all 67 directors in PA articles that he has gleaned concerning child support from around the country. The passport denial program is a great way to collect child support from those who obviously have the funds to pay child support (since they are travelling out of the country), but are choosing to gratify their own needs rather than putting food in their chldren's mouths and clothes on their children's backs. It's great to see an old friend speaking to this issue. Thanks.

Posted by: muggs | September 6, 2007 4:17 PM

A crazy and somewhat sad story about the 2nd regulation Leslie mentions in her blog entry:
The father of a friend of mine died suddenly in a car wreck when we were all about 11 years old. Several months later, her mother took the 2 daughters on a trip to Mexico - the ticket agent at Newark Airport would not issue boarding passes to my friend and her sister (both under 18 at the time) without a signed letter from their DEAD father saying it was OK for their mother to take them out of the country. My friend's mother was understandably hysterical and called my Dad to ask what she should do - my Dad ended up going to their house and getting a copy of the Dad's DEATH CERTIFICATE, which he raced to the airport to prove that the Mom wasn't abducting her own children. Of course, she knew after that to bring it with her, but what a nightmare...just a couple of months after her husband had died!

Posted by: dcgirl1899 | September 7, 2007 4:30 PM

I'm a pilot who needs to travel to earn a living and I was recently denied a passport for renewal because of alleged child support arrears. The custodial parent relocated out of state without notifying me, or the agency where the original judgment took place. My paychecks are garnished and I have no arrears. I was wrongfully denied a passport because of the custodial parent's state flagging my ss# when I was making payments to the original state, where I reside. I will be out of a job by the end of the month (when I'm required to depart for international travel) and will start incurring legitimate arrears because of unemployment and start the downward spiral. I will lose my professional license I worked very hard for and probably my sanity. So here is the case that you "never heard of." I guess I'm just that unfortunate "rare" case that makes the program a viable cause.
I was never married and dated this individual that claimed impotence for 3 months who was an immigrant at the time. After helping this individual establish citizenship she told me she was pregnant. I asked her to terminate the pregnancy and she refused. I helped her after the child was born financially and yet, she still filed for support. I had no choice in the matter whatsoever. I was never able to visit the child and now she resides out of state and has not contacted me once. This situation has caused financial and economic stress for me and now this passport situation. My life isn't my own anymore. This isn't a situation where the program has worked. This is a situation where a recent immigrant came to this country to exploit its system and its citizens while getting a child involved. This is extremely irresponsible, but I'm the bad guy in society's eyes.

Posted by: jburr737 | October 6, 2007 8:49 AM

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