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Child Support Recovery Act 106 Stat. 3403 (1992)

CHILD SUPPORT RECOVERY ACT 106 Stat. 3403 (1992)

The Child Support Recovery Act (CSRA) provides that anyone who willfully fails to pay "past due support" for a child living in another state may be fined or imprisoned. "Past due support" means court-ordered obligations that either have been unpaid for more than a year or exceed $5,000. Congress enacted the CSRA to assist the efforts of states to collect unpaid child support. Congress estimated that the gap between the child support owed and that actually paid was approximately $5 billion annually. It also expressed concern that this deficit contributes to the increase in the cost of federal welfare assistance, much of which goes to single-parent families.

The constitutionality of the act has been questioned since its passage in 1992. Several federal district courts held that the CSRA exceeded the authority of Congress under the commerce clause, relying heavily on the Supreme Court's decision in united states v. lÓpez (1995). By mid-1998, however, every federal court of appeals that had reviewed the act had held it constitutional. Although the states have traditionally regulated domestic relationships, the courts have characterized the CSRA either as a regulation of debts owed in interstate commerce or as regulation of an activity that substantially affects interstate commerce. Moreover, the CSRA only applies to child support obligations owed by a parent for a dependent child residing in a different state. The courts have also rejected arguments based on the tenth amendment and new york v. united states (1992) because the act does not direct state officials to do anything. The CSRA does not interfere with state child support determinations; rather, it is an attempt to enforce those state-determined obligations when the obligations take on an interstate character.

Jay S. Bybee

(see also: Federalism.)


Burdette, Kathleen A. 1996 Making Parents Pay: Interstate Child Support Enforcement After United States v. López. University of Pennsylvania Law Review 144:1469–1528.

Calhoun, Janelle T. 1995 Interstate Child Support Enforcement System: Juggernaut of Bureaucracy. Mercer Law Review 46:921–976.

Siff, Andrew M. 1997 United States v. López and the Child Support Recovery Act of 1992: Why a Nice Idea Must Be Declared A Casualty of the Struggle to Save Federalism. Cornell Journal of Law and Public Policy 6:753–813.

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