Deadbeat Parents Punishment Act

by: Maury Beaulier, Attorney.

Elements of Offense
In order to convict a defendant accused of violation the Dead Beat Parents Punishment Act, the United States must prove that the defendant:
1. Had the ability to pay,
2. Willfully failed to pay,
3. A known and past due child support obligation,
4. Which has remained unpaid for longer than one year
OR is an amount greater than $5,000,
5. For a child who resides in a different state than the defendant.

Clarifications of the Law
Federal statutes and subsequent case law have helped to define some of the key terms of the statute.

What is Past Due Child Support?
The CSRA federal statute specifically defines a "past due support obligation" as any amount determined by a court order or an order under an established administrative procedure of any state which finds child support due from a person to a child or a person with whom a child is living; and the obligation has remained unpaid for a period longer than one year, or is greater than $5,000. 18 U.S.C. § 228(d)(1).

What does it mean to be Willful?
There is no clear definition of "willful" under the DPPA. However, a good barometer of willfulness may be found under federal criminal tax law. For criminal tax cases, willfulness is a " knowing and intentional violation of a known legal duty." Cheek v. United States, 111 S.Ct. 604, 610 (1991). It is important to recognize that willfulness cannot be presumed from non-payment by the defendant alone. The prosecution has burden to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that any failure to pay child support is willful at the time the child support was due to the custodial parent AND the defendant had sufficient money to pay the child support obligation or that any lack of funds was caused by a voluntary and intentional act of the defendant without justification in view of all the financial circumstances of the case. H.Rep. No. 102-771, 102nd Cong., 2d Sess., at 6.

What if partial payments have been made?
Even if partial payments have been made by a defendant, he/she may still be convicted under the DPPA since that statute defines a " past due support obligation" as "any amount" that is due and owing. A partial payment, however, may be relevant to a defendant's ability or inability to pay support. In fact, if full payment is made before the prosecution concludes, it does not obviate the offense since the willful intent not to pay support and the act of not paying when due has already occurred.

Where is the Case Heard?
The location where the case is heard is called the "venue." The venue for a prosecution under the DPPA may occur in one of two federal court districts:

To date Department of Justice has filed most cases in the district where the child resides.

When is the DPPA Usually Applied?
General guidelines have been set out for U.S. attorneys regarding when to prosecute a defendant for a non-payment of child support. Although these guidelines will not invalidate a qualifying prosecution under the statute that does not comply with the guidelines, it provides a barometer of when to expect a prosecution to occur. First, U.S. attorneys are recommended to accept only cases where all reasonable available remedies have been exhausted. That does not mean that a state prosecution must occur first. It simply means that the U.S. attorney must come to a subjective conclusion based on past history of the case and past conduct of the defendant that other efforts would most likely prove futile.

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