What Is the Deadbeat Dad Law?

By Samantha Kemp

Before 1998, bad parents had little more than their morals to worry about when they split town and failed to support their children. That changed that year because Bill Clinton signed into law the Deadbeat Parents Punishment Act. For the government, one benefit of the law was to encourage a support system so fewer mothers would have to go on welfare. For the parents, it made it a crime to cross state lines to avoid paying child support.

Crime and Punishment

The act makes it a federal crime for a person to willfully fail to pay child support for a child who lives in another state. A parent is in violation of the act if he has not paid child support in more than one year or owes more than $5,000 in child support. Any parent who violates the law faces a maximum penalty of six months in jail and a fine. The penalty jumps to a maximum of two years in jail and a fine if the parent owes $10,000 or more, or is more than two years behind on payments, or tried to leave the state just to skip payments. The parent must also pay restitution for the amount of child support that he owes.


A number of federal and state agencies enforce the rule. Among them are the federal Office of Child Support Enforcement, Office of Inspector General, the U.S. Marshals Service, the Department of Justice and state child support agencies. Perpetrators are identified, investigated and then prosecuted by federal prosecutors.

Reporting a Deadbeat Parent

The custodial parent or the agency handling the case must submit adequate evidence the parent meets the criteria for prosecution before the U.S. Attorney's office will agree to accept a case. Additionally, the accusers must show all reasonably-available remedies have been sought, such as pursuing garnishment or contempt of court proceedings. A letter is sent to the noncustodial parent, demanding payment. A second letter is sent if the first goes unanswered. The FBI is then brought in to pursue the individual and charges are filed.

Read More: How to Find Deadbeat Dads


Under the federal Consumer Credit Protection Act, a person behind on child support can have his disposable earnings garnished up to 50 percent if he has another spouse or child, and 60 percent if he doesn't. An additional 5 percent can be tacked on if his payments are more than 12 weeks behind schedule.


While the term "deadbeat dad" is commonly used, the actual name of the law is the Deadbeat Parents Punishment Act. It applies to noncustodial parents of either gender who ignore their financial obligation to their children.