1. What is the Passport Denial Program?
Section 51.70(a)(8) of Title 22 of the Code of Federal Regulations states, in part that if you are certified to Passport Services by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to be in arrears of child support payments in excess of $2,500, then you are ineligible to receive a U.S. passport. If this applies to you, then you are strongly recommended that you contact your local county probation department to make payment arrangements before applying for a passport, or trying to renew your passport.
The Passport Denial Program, which is part of the Federal Offset Program, is designed to help states enforce delinquent child support obligations. Under the program, non-custodial parents who are certified probation as having arrears that exceed $2,500 are submitted by the Federal Office of Child Support Enforcement (OCSE) to the Department of State (DOS), which denies them U.S. passports upon application or the use of a passport service. The Office of Child Support Enforcement is an agency within the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS).
The Passport Denial Program is another tool that is provided to New Jersey and to the federal government by the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act (PRWORA). The PRWORA requires the Secretary of State to refuse to issue a passport to any person certified by the Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) as owing child support debt greater than $2,500. Further, the Secretary of State may take action to revoke, restrict, or limit a passport previously issued to an individual owing such a child support debt.
Any parent who owes child support arrears that are greater than $2,500 will be sent a passport denial Pre Offset Notice. The Passport Agency will then hold your application for 90 days. If the (OCSE) has released the block on your case before the end of the 90 day hold period, then the Passport Agency will mail the passport to you within two to five working days. If the release process exceeds 90 days, then a new passport application must be submitted. Moreover, the Passport Agency will not refund any application fee. When New Jersey Family Support Payment Center (FSPC) submits a case with arrears that exceed $2,500, then the (OCSE) automatically forwards that case to the State Department for a passport denial. The New Jersey Family Support Payment Center (FSPC) is the central location for the receipt of all child support payments within New Jersey.
Thereafter, when a deadbeat parent applies for a passport, the State Department will then deny the application based on the child support obligation(s) owed by the payor. When the State Department denies an application for a passport, a notice is then sent to the non custodial parent. This notice explains that the passport application was denied because of delinquent child support. Moreover, the notice also advises the payor to contact the appropriate state child support enforcement agency, listed on the notice, to obtain further information.
2. I used to owe $10,000 in child support arrears. I just went to the county probation office and I paid $8,000 of my arrears. Can I now be automatically removed from the Passport Denial Program because my child support debt has dropped below $2,500?
No. Delinquent child support payors are not automatically removed from the Passport Denial Program when their debt drops below $2,500. New Jersey has a zero balance policy which requires that the child support account be brought current before anyone can be removed from the program. If more than one state reported a delinquency in excess of $2,500 effective, then the payor must contact all states involved in order for the passport to be released.
Once the child support arrears have been satisfied, then the New Jersey Family Support Payment Center (FSPC) must request that the (OCSE) remove the payor from the passport denial process. The New Jersey Family Support Payment Center (FSPC) is a branch with the Administrative Office of the Courts (AOC). They are located in Trenton. Basically, the New Jersey Family Support Payment Center (FSPC) is the headquarters of all of the county probation offices. The local county probation offices only report the arrears information to the New Jersey Family Support Payment Center (FSPC). The local county probation offices do not report the information about child support arrears to the (OCSE) or to the Department of State (DOS). The New Jersey Family Support Payment Center (FSPC) reports all child support arrears directly to the (OCSE).
It takes approximately two weeks from the time (OCSE) receives a request for removal for the State Department to withdraw the passport denial. After the denial of the passport has been withdrawn, then the payor must reapply for the passport and pay any accompanying fees. Any fees that are paid are not refunded when the passport application is denied.
The process of removing a block to apply for a passport can be a nightmare experience. A payor must have four government agencies remove the block from their computer systems. Removing a block to apply for a passport is a challenging process that will test the patience of any delinquent payor. The payor will have to go to the county probation and pay up the arrears. Once this occurs, then county probation must notify the New Jersey Family Support Payment Center (FSPC) that all arrears have been paid up. Once the New Jersey Family Support Payment Center (FSPC) receives this information, then it must remove the block, and then notify the (OCSE). Once the (OSCE) receives notice that the arrears have been paid off, then it will notify the Department of State, and instruct them to remove any blocks. Once the Department of State removes any blocks from their computer system, then it will notify Passport Services Office. The Passport Services Office provides information and services to American citizens about how to obtain, replace or change a passport.
A delinquent payor will have to have four government agencies remove their blocks before he can apply for a passport. This process can be a maddening experience. The Passport Agency will hold your application for 90 days. If the (OCSE) has released your case before the end of the 90 day hold period, then the Passport Agency will mail the passport to you within two to five working days. If the release process exceeds more than 90 days, then a new passport application must be submitted.
3. My ex-husband refuses to pay for child support, but he is planning a vacation to the Fiji Islands with his new girlfriend. Will he be denied a passport?
Yes. Under the Passport Denial Program, the New Jersey Family Support Payment Center will certify to the (OCSE) that the non-custodial parent owes more than $2,500 in past due child support arrears. Thereafter, the Federal Office of Child Support (OSCE) transmits the arrears information to the Department of State. The Department of State will be advised not to issue or renew your ex-husband’s passport because he is not supporting his children.
4. How can the Passport Denial program create a disaster for me if I owe substantial child support arrears?
Ordinarily, the process to obtain or renew a passport is relatively a simple process. Once a payor goes into their local passport office, it takes about four or six weeks to process. If the payor pays an additional fee, then he may expedite the process and receive his passport in two to three weeks. Unfortunately, a payor may hit a roadblock during this process if he owes child support arrears. A payor can’t apply for a passport if there is a block that is filed with the Department of State. Basically, if a person owes more than $2,500 in child support arrears, then the New Jersey Family Support Payment Center (FSPC) can file a block on your ability to apply or renew a passport.
At the time of determination of ineligibility, any delinquent payor is instructed to contact probation in order to make payment arrangements. If there appropriate arrangements made within the ninety (90) days, then the National Passport Information Center must be notified in writing or by calling. Thereafter, an additional 5 to 10 business days should be allowed to pass before a payor should contact the Center to inquire about the status of his passport application. The reason for this delay is because the (OSCE) needs some time to process information sent to it from the New Jersey Family Support Payment Center (FSPC), and to also remove the block on the passport from their own computer system. Once the (OSCE) has certified to the Secretary of State that the child support arrears have been satisfied, then the payor’s name will be removed from the (OSCE) electronic list of deadbeats who are ineligible for passport services. Only after all of these steps are satisfied then a passport will be finally issued.
Although this process appears to be straightforward, it is quite often a nightmare to have a restriction or a block removed from a delinquent payor’s name. In the event that such a block exists upon a payor’s name, then county probation must be immediately contacted. Next, the (OCSE) should be contacted as well. The payor should ascertain if the New Jersey Family Support Payment Center (FSPC) transmitted to them the information that the payor has paid off his child support arrears.
After all of these steps have been satisfied, then the National Passport Agency should be contacted. They should be informed that the block has been removed and that the passport is ready for process. At this juncture, even if all of the correct steps and procedures have been followed, it is often very common for the block to still continue to appear. In the event that this occurs, then any payor must request that the passport agent perform a “special name search.” A “special search” will reveal that the block has been removed. This search only takes twenty four hours. Thereafter, the National Passport Agency will notify the passport office that it is processing the payor’s request and that the block has been removed. Once the block has been removed, then the passport may be printed and sent out to the payor.
Basically, in order to obtain or renew a passport for a client who has a block upon his name, the payor must start at their local level and work their way up to the State level, and finally the federal level, in order to insure that the restriction is removed. If the payor attempts to renew the passport, and if he naively believes they only need two weeks to do so, then he will be in for a rude awakening.