My parents divorced around the time I finished high school.* The court ordered Dad to provide support to Mom for both me and my sister as long as we were full time students, even in college. I finished my bachelor’s degree about the same time my sister finished high school, and the old man decided he was done writing checks altogether; it didn’t matter that she was about to start college herself. He wasn’t so much a deadbeat dad as he was insistent that his obligation was fulfilled (and that he knew more about family law statutes than the judge did). The Child Support Recovery Unit saw things differently, and he drew a federal pension, so garnishment was pretty straightforward.
Child support recovery isn’t as straightforward when the “debtor” parent leaves the United States. It’s downright impossible if s/he goes to a country that views parental obligations in a dramatically different way than ours does. International child support enforcement is an exceedingly tough nut to crack, for a hundred different reasons.
But at least some help is on its way. The Hague Child Support Convention will enter into force for the United States on January 1, 2017, so a mechanism will be in place soon thereafter for the enforcement of support orders (as well as alimony orders, under certain circumstances). We can’t ascertain as yet precisely how the United States will administer requests under the treaty, but keep an eye on this space for an update once details are published; all indications are that the Department of Health and Human Services will be the designated Central Authority, but procedural details are sketchy.
With the exception of Burkina Faso (look it up—that’s a fiercely proud country right there), the treaty is only effective between the U.S. and Europe, but that just happens to be where a significant number of non-custodial parents live. Of course, that doesn’t help with Asia, Latin America, or the vast majority of Africa. But it’s a start.
UPDATE: The Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Child Support Enforcement (OCSE), is designated as the U.S. Central Authority for this treaty. OCSE has in turn designated state child support enforcement agencies as parties’/litigators’ primary points of contact. Those agencies may not yet have experience with international requests under the Convention (which is logical given that it’s so new), but guidance is available to them here.
*This is a hot-button issue for me.