"An Act relating to child support modification and enforcement, to the establishment of paternity by the child support enforcement agency, and to the crimes of criminal nonsupport and aiding the nonpayment of child support; amending Rule 90.3, Alaska Rules of Civil Procedure; and providing for an effective date."
has been introduced as an omnibus bill to help the Child Support Enforcement Division better serve the parents and children of Alaska. There are seven changes to the child support statutes. Each piece of this legislation attempts to remedy problems the agency has encountered over many years.
Making Criminal Nonsupport a felony
Thirty-three states have a felony criminal nonsupport law. Currently in Alaska, the crime of criminal nonsupport is a Class A Misdemeanor.
The total outstanding arrearages for child support cases in the Alaska Child Support Enforcement Division totals $583,434,030. Currently, there are 14,946 cases having either arrearages greater than $10,000 or no payments for 24 months or more. Not all these cases would qualify for criminal nonsupport charges. Owing a large amount of child support doesn't make an individual a criminal. The arrears owed are only one factor of many taken into consideration when charging a nonpaying parent with criminal nonsupport.
This legislation would follow the lead of the 33 other states and federal government and make criminal nonsupport a felony, giving the agency another tool to deal with the most egregious cases.
Making Aiding and Abetting nonpayment of child support a felony
There are individuals, whether relatives or friends, who believe they are helping the individual (through their sense of fairness) by providing "under the table" employment opportunities when instead they are harming the children most of all.
If the crime of criminal nonsupport is raised to the level of a Class C felony, it is reasonable that the crime of aiding and abetting the nonpayment of child support should be raised as well. Raising this crime to a felony sends a clear and convincing message to those individuals who have their own sense of justice and help people skirt the law.
Giving the courts statutory authority
This legislation gives the courts statutory authority to issue orders pertaining to requiring non-custodial parents to pay child support payments according to an approved payment plan; ordering them to seek work unless incapacitated; and/or requiring them to complete and submit applications for Permanent Fund Dividend.
Because there is not yet a clear defined authority to do so, there is one judicial jurisdiction within the State of Alaska that will not issue these orders. This legislation corrects that situation.
Giving CHILD SUPPORT ENFORCEMENT DIVISION investigators the power of peace officers when enforcing child support laws.
This legislation would help protect those who investigate the criminal aspect of child support laws. Child support laws deal with money and children, both of which raise the emotions of those involved. The majority of cases are civil. However, there are a number of cases that are criminal in nature.
The Child Support Enforcement Division investigators have, and continue to be, threatened, followed, and placed in danger without the ability to defend themselves or others while performing their investigations. They have to interview individuals who have violent criminal backgrounds including murder, rape, assault, etc. while trying to perform their duties. The situations are so potentially dangerous the Child Support Enforcement Division has issued the investigators bulletproof vests for protection, but they haven't yet been afforded the ability to defend themselves.
By their position descriptions they are required to respond to all threats to the agency and its staff. The Child Support Enforcement Division investigators are commissioned by the Department of Public Safety as "Limited Special Officers Alaska State Troopers" to perform their duty. When the investigators show this identification and badge to an individual in the performance of their duty, it is presumed they are armed, even though they aren't.
This legislation will help correct that problem.
Giving CHILD SUPPORT ENFORCEMENT DIVISION authority to compromise state debt through settlements or approved payment plans
Federal government is concerned with the ever increasing child support debt owed. The debt accumulated is to (1) the custodial parent, (2) to the state, and (3) the Federal government. Currently, there is $90 billion owed throughout the nation. Alaska's share of this debt is approximately $600 million. Of the $600 million, $300 million is owed to custodial parents, and $300 million is owed to the State of Alaska and the Federal government.
In 2002, the Office of Child Support Enforcement (OCSE) in Washington, DC commissioned a study of the $90 billion owed in child support throughout the nation. The study completed found that approximately 70% of the child support owed is by persons making less than $10,000 a year, and that if the income was raised to $20,000 the percentile is raised to 84%.
There are many nonpaying non-custodial parents who want to pay, but because the debt owed is so overwhelming they give up and make no payments at all. This legislation does not create a giveaway program, but rather provides a way to bring those needing a helping hand an opportunity to be responsible for their children again. The consistency of payments they make over a period of time would earn them the ability or allow them to seek a reduction in their child support arrearages.
"It is not the one payment a year that will help those parents stay off welfare, but the consistent monthly child support on which the custodial parent can rely," said Commissioner Cherie Heller, Office of Children Support Enforcement, Washington, DC
Allowing Paternity and child support establishment for rape and incest victims if they want to pursue it
Under current statute, if a victim of rape or incest requests the Child Support Enforcement Division to establish paternity and a monthly child support order, the Child Support Enforcement Division is prohibited. In this, the State of Alaska penalizes the victim again. This legislation would allow the Child Support Enforcement Division to establish paternity and seek a child support order only if the victim requests it.
Adopting Federal changes to modification of child support orders
This legislation provides necessary changes in Alaska statutes to ensure state law is consistent with federal funding laws. This Alaska statute revision ensures the Child Support Enforcement Division's compliance with state plan requirements and ensures federal funds to Alaska. Federal law (42 USC 666) requires support orders be modified whether or not there has been a material change in circumstances if more than three years have passed since the order was issued or modified.
Failure of this legislation to pass this year potentially places the State of Alaska in jeopardy of significant losses in federal funding for the Child Support Enforcement Division and the Temporary Aid to Needy Family (TANF) block grants.
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