Under Missouri law, when a parent owing child support accumulates an arrearage of at least $2,500.00, the Family Support Division or the family court can seek to suspend the driving privileges of the parent in arrears until that parent takes affirmative steps to pay down the past-due support.
Under federal law, when a parent hits the same level of child support in arrears — $2,500.00 – the state agency overseeing child support has an obligation to notify the State Department of the arrearage, at which point the State Department can suspend or deny a passport to the parent in arrears until that parent pays down the arrearage. The purpose of the federal law is to prevent parents who owe child support from leaving the country, thereby making it harder for any state in the United States to pursue garnishments or other proceedings to assure continuity of child support.
Recently, the Western District of the Missouri Court of Appeals had a chance to examine whether the federal obligation to report an arrearage of at least $2,500 extended to a failure to pay for college expenses. In Warkenthien v. Family Support Division, the father had been ordered to pay 75% of each of his children’s college expenses. A court entered a judgment finding the father owed back support of $2,000 and an additional $9,750 for his share of the children’s college expenses. The Family Support Division, counting the college expenses as child support, notified the State Department of the arrearage, thereby suspending the father’s passport. The father appealed the certification to the State Department. The Western District held that under Missouri law, payment of college expenses ordered by the court counts as child support, and it upheld the trial court decision.
Some will view this decision as straightforward, and others will see it as harsh. But from a practical standpoint, it should serve as a warning to those who may have arrearages that losing their driving privileges is not the only privilege at risk.
If you have questions about child support and passports, contact us – we can help.