Licence Suspension and Denial: Overview of a New Mechanism for Child Support Enforcement


The intent of suspension initiatives is to improve enforcement power in cases when wage or income withholding is not possible, that is, generally when the child support payor is self-employed.[5]

The United States federal government required states to enact licence suspension legislation in the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act (PRWORA) of 1996. Child support agencies (CSAs) were required to withhold, suspend or restrict drivers', professional and occupational licences, and recreational and sporting licences of persons owing support.[6] The law also required that applicants for professional, occupational and drivers' licences must provide their social security number (SSN) on their applications. No other requirements were mandated in the federal legislation, so that, in effect, states were permitted to implement licence suspension programs as they saw fit. For example, states could define which professional, occupational and recreational licences were subject to suspension[7] and develop their own criteria to initiate the enforcement action, e.g. the number of months that a payor could be in arrears. Nor does the state CSA have to be responsible for administering the state's statutory requirements (U.S. DHHS, ACF, 1997).

If a state does not introduce supporting legislation as mandated by the PRWORA, the federal government may impose a financial penalty. The federal government could determine that the state is not in conformity with the federal enforcement plan requirements, which is a condition of eligibility for federal financial assistance (U.S. DHHS, ACF, 1997).

The federal legislation expanded on then existing state laws. Many states had already established these programs well before the passage of the PRWORA in mid-1996. Arizona and Vermont were the first states to institute a form of licence denial in 1990.

  • Originally, in Arizona, at a hearing on a petition to enforce child support, the court could direct occupational licensing boards to conduct a hearing to suspend the payor's licence or certificate. Each board had to record the SSN of the licensee in order to assist in locating non-custodial parents.[8] This law was later rescinded and replaced with legislation relating to both occupational and drivers' licences.

  • In Vermont, applicants for business, professional and trade licences were asked to "self-attest" whether they had outstanding child support payments on their applications for renewal or a new licence.[9]

These two early examples differ from more recent legislation authorizing the mandatory suspension of licences after an administrative or judicial process. All states suspend licences, as opposed to only denying them when original or renewal applications are made.

It is noteworthy that 12 of 19 states with suspension schemes before 1995 covered occupational licences and not drivers' licences (U.S. DHHS, OCSE, 1995). This situation may be related to the initial reluctance of state legislators to suspend driving privileges for fear of interfering with a payor's employment. With the passage of PRWORA, every state included the suspension of drivers' licences in its legislation, sometimes reluctantly, to avoid the loss of federal financial assistance.

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