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Laura Wish Morgan
Executive Editor, Divorce Litigation

In 1996, Congress passed the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act (PRWORA), also known as the Welfare Reform Act. Pub. L. No. 104-193, 110 Stat. 2105. PRWORA, in the words of President Clinton, effectively "ended welfare as we know it." PRWORA ended the federal entitlement to Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC), Title IV-A of the Social Security Act of 1935, and replaced it with block grants to the states, known as Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF). The major effect of PRWORA is that the federal government will no longer provide a guaranteed safety net of cash subsistence benefits. Instead, the major responsibility for helping poor families has shifted to state and local governments. This provision of PRWORA was was summarized by the court in Kansas v. United States, 24 F. Supp. 2d 1192, 1193 (D. Kan. 1998), as follows:

PRWORA, popularly known as "welfare reform," made sweeping changes in the laws regulating the poor. It abolished Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) and created the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program. AFDC had provided cash payments to indigent families based upon national eligibility standards and a uniform federal definition which created an entitlement for recipients. TANF eliminated national eligibility standards and abolished the national entitlement to aid. Under the new TANF program, states are given federal block grant money with the authority to design their own public assistance programs.

PRWORA also requires the states, in order to qualify for a block grant, to undertake many new child support enforcement measures. See generally Samuel V. Schoonmaker, IV, Consequences and Validity of Family Law Provisions in the "Welfare Reform Act," 14 J. Am. Acad. Matrim. Law. 1 (Summer 1997); Paul K. Legler, The Coming Revolution in Child Support Policy: Implications of the 1996 Welfare Act, 30 Fam. L. Q. 519 (Fall 1996); Paula Roberts, The Family Law Implications of the 1996 Welfare Legislation, 30 Clearinghouse Review 98 (Jan./Feb. 1997).

At the time PRWORA was passed, it was believed that these measures would lead to increased child support collection. That hope is now a reality. On Friday, April 2, 1999, the Department of Health and Human Services reported that child support collections had increased from $12 billion in 1996 to $14.4 billion in 1998, an increase of about 20%. The Washington Post, Friday, April 2, 1999, Page A27. New Jersey state child support officials reported an increase in collection by 8.5%, while Arizona reported an increase as well. Id. On August 20, 1999, Indiana reported a dramatic increase as well.

A number of programs mandated by PRWORA can take direct credit. The Utah Office of Recovery Services reported on March 30, 1999, that the New Hire Registry had resulted in an estimated $5 million increase in collections of child support arrears, calling it "the most timely fraud detection tool we have ever used." The Salt Lake Tribune, Reporting of New Hires Saves State Millions; Deseret News, New-hire Registry Stops Fraud, Catches Deadbeat Dads. In Ohio, it was reported that the procedures mandated for expedited paternity establishment have also led to an increase in child support collection. Akron Beacon Journal.

Not only Title IV-D agencies can take advantage of the new procedures available for child support collection. In particular, private advocates can use the Federal Parent Locator Service to track down parents who owe child support.

The Federal Parent Locator Service (FPLS) is a computerized national location network operated by the federal Office of Child Support Enforcement. It is intended to help locate children, parents, and their assets, and obtain information on the noncustodial parent's wages from and benefits of employment, in order to establish, modify or enforce child support obligation, determine paternity and parental rights, establish or enforce child custody or visitation orders, and to assist law enforcement agencies in cases of parental kidnapping.

The expanded FPLS includes two new databases: the National Directory of New Hires (NDNH), a centralized repository of employment and wage data, and the Federal Case Registry of Child Support Orders (FCR). The FPLS is also linked to databases, maintained by State Parent Locator Services (SPLS) and federal agencies, such as the Social Security Administration, the Internal Revenue Service, the Department of Defense, and the Department of Veterans Affairs.

The National Directory of New Hires (NDNH) and the Federal Case Registry (FCR) are key to PRWORA's child support enforcement provisions. The NDNH, a national employment information database, receives up-to-date information on newly hired employees from all the states and federal agencies, along with other state and federal employment information. The FPLS matches this data against the FCR and "locate requests" submitted by the states. When there is a match, the FPLS provides information to the requesting state, if release is not precluded by the Family Violence Indicator (FVI). The New Hire report contains, at a minimum, the following information: the employee's name, address, and social security number, and the employer's name, address and FEIN. Federal agencies report directly to the NDNH. More complete case information can be obtained from the appropriate State Case Registry or court. The FCR is a federal database which contains identifying information on all individuals involved in publicly enforced (IV-D) child support cases, and privately enforced (non IV-D) child support orders, entered or modified after October 1, 1998. The FCR consists of abstracts of data for persons, cases and orders transmitted from the State Case Registries. It includes the following data: case identification number, case type (IV-D or non IV-D), an indication of whether or not there is an existing order in the case, first and last names of each participant, participant type (custodial party, non-custodial parent, putative father, or child), date of birth and Social Security number of each participant.

The state is required to place a Family Violence Indicator (FVI) on a participant, if: (1) there is a protective order or if the state determines it has reasonable evidence of domestic violence or child abuse against a party or child, and (2) the disclosure of information could be harmful to that parent or child. The FPLS will not release information on that parent or child, except to a court or an agent of a court of competent jurisdiction.

A court with authority to issue or enforce a custody, visitation or child support order, or the parent, legal guardian, attorney or agent of a child who is not receiving public assistance, can access the FPLS in order to: (1) locate the support obligor, obligee, or child to whom an obligation is owed, (2) identify and locate the obligor's employer, (3) obtain information on the obligor's wages, other income from and benefits of employment (including health care coverage), (4) obtain information on the type, status, location and amount of any assets of or debts owed by or to the obligor. Federal law limits disclosure to specified information that will be released to authorized persons for authorized purposes.

An authorized person can obtain FPLS information, by placing a "locate request" through the State Parent Locator Service (SPLS), pursuant to 45 CFR 303.7. When the FPLS receives the locate request, it searches its automated internal databases and external sources, to search for information requested by state IV-D agencies, and provides the SPLS with information appropriate to the purpose of the request.

When location information is sought for the purpose of custody or visitation enforcement, requesting party will receive information on the participants' most recent address and place of employment. When the request is made for child support purposes, the FPLS will provide additional information, which may include the participants' addresses, income and employment benefits and assets and debts.

State child support enforcement agencies may charge a one-time application fee, of not more than $25.00, for FPLS locate services. Authorized persons are not required to register for IV-D enforcement services, or assign their support rights to the state, in order to obtain locate information.

Attorneys can contact their local child support enforcement agency to obtain detailed instructions for requesting state and federal parent locate information. Parents and private attorneys seeking "locate" information in connection with child custody, visitation or parental kidnapping cases should request the information through a court with jurisdiction to decide the case. The court can request the desired information, through the SPLS. After searching its databases, the FPLS will transmit the appropriate data to the SPLS, which will forward it to the requesting court, which can make the information available to the requesting parent or attorney.

Further information on the Federal Parent Locator Service can be obtained from Jeff Johnson, FPLS Judicial Outreach Coordinator, at (202) 401-5567, or

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