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Citizen's Guide To U.S. Federal Law On Child Support Enforcement

18 U.S.C. § 228 - Failure to pay legal child support obligations

Section 228 of Title 18, United States Code, makes it illegal for an individual to willfully fail to pay child support in certain circumstances.

An individual is subject to federal prosecution if he or she willfully fails to pay a support obligation for a child who lives in another state.

  • If the payment is past due for longer than 1 year or the amount exceeds $5,000, a violation is a criminal misdemeanor, and convicted offender face fines and up to 6 months in prison.
  • If the child support payment is overdue for longer than 2 years, or the amount exceeds $10,000, the violation is a criminal felony, and convicted offenders face fines and up to 2 years in prison.

The statute also prohibits individuals obligated to pay child support from crossing state lines or fleeing the country to avoid paying child support that has either been past due for more than 1 year or exceeds $5,000. A violation carries a potential two-year prison sentence.

Violations of this statute can be prosecuted by the federal government in either the state where the custodial parent lives or the state where the owing individual lives.

Restitution of the unpaid support obligation to the custodial parent is a mandatory part of any sentence imposed for a violation of this statute.

Generally, other than in the circumstances described above, child support enforcement issues are handled by state and local authorities, and not by the federal government. Additionally, all child support enforcement matters must be addressed at the local or state level before the federal government can take action.

For additional information in Rhode Island, contact the U.S. Attorney’s Office:

401-709-5000 – Press option 2 in the automated switchboard.


Sources:   18 U.S.C. § 228 (Westlaw); USDOJ: CRM: Child Exploitation and Obscenity Section


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Updated June 23, 2015

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