PA 07-247—sHB 7361

Human Services Committee

Judiciary Committee

Appropriations Committee

Finance, Revenue and Bonding Committee

Transportation Committee

AN ACT CONCERNING CHILD SUPPORT ENFORCEMENT PROGRAM COMPLIANCE AND IMPROVEMENTS

SUMMARY: This act makes changes in state law to conform with child support provisions in the federal Deficit Reduction Act of 2005. First, it allows the state in IV-D child support cases to collect arrearages through state and federal income tax refund offsets for children who have reached the age of majority. A IV-D support case is one in which the child has received state assistance under Temporary Family Assistance (TFA), HUSKY A, or certain other state programs or the custodial parent asks the state's designated IV-D agency, which is the Bureau of Child Support Enforcement (BCSE), for help to collect child support. These offsets were formerly allowed only for minors. Second, it limits the amount of support the state can require applicants for TFA to assign to the state as a condition of qualifying for assistance. Third, it requires the BCSE to impose a $25 annual fee on certain individuals receiving support enforcement services. Finally, it allows the use of National Medical Support Notices to enforce medical support orders of custodial, as well as noncustodial, parents.

The act creates a reasonable cost standard for medical insurance that a court can use in deciding whether to require a parent to pay for the insurance. It also allows a court to require both parents, instead of either parent, to provide or contribute to the cost of health insurance.

It makes two conforming changes consistent with prior state legislation. It:

1. extends to all Superior Court family relations matters an existing requirement that if the Superior Court transfers custody in a juvenile matter, but fails to address support, the prior support order is automatically either suspended or the order's payee is changed and

2. requires continuation of support payments for children who are the subject of support orders resulting from marriage dissolution beyond age 18 under certain circumstances, even if they do not live with a parent.

It removes the requirement for the chief court administrator's office to approve various forms used for support petitions and support orders.

The act makes substantial changes to Connecticut's Uniform Interstate Family Support Act (UIFSA) to conform with 1991 amendments adopted by the National Council of Commissioners of Uniform State Laws. UIFSA generally governs the establishment, enforcement, and modification of support orders and paternity determinations when the laws of two or more states could apply and the person requesting enforcement does not live in the state that has jurisdiction to enforce the order.

The act also extends many UIFSA procedures to income withholding orders and eliminates a provision in prior law prohibiting any employer from withholding income from an employee's paycheck when notified of a pending contest to the underlying income withholding order.

The act also makes minor, technical, and conforming changes.

EFFECTIVE DATE: January 1, 2008 for the UIFSA changes. Various, as indicated for other provisions.

COMPLIANCE WITH FEDERAL DEFICIT REDUCTION ACT

64 & 65 — Allowing Income Tax Offsets for Adult Children in IV-D Cases

The law requires the state to withhold state and federal income tax refunds from child support obligors who owe past-due support. (For federal refunds, the state submits requests to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) through the federal child support agency. ) This withholding is for obligors owing $150 or more in cases in which the custodial parent is a TFA recipient, or $500 or more in non-TFA cases. The amount withheld is paid to the state for TFA cases. It is distributed to the child or children's custodial parent or guardian in non-TFA cases. Under prior law, these “offsets” could be taken only as long as the child for whom the support was due was a minor. The act allows it to also occur even after a child turns age 18.

By law, obligors have the right to a hearing to contest the offsets.

The act explicitly requires that the fee collected to pay for the offset costs be sufficient to reimburse the state, as well as the IRS, for offset collection-related costs. In practice, the state already collects an offset fee.

Federal law allows states to use the offset to collect support arrearages when the child is a minor, but under prior law, once the child turned age 18, states could use the offset only when the money to be offset would be owed to the state (i. e. , a TFA case). The 2005 Deficit Reduction Act (DRA) allows this to be applied in all IV-D cases starting October 1, 2007.

EFFECTIVE DATE: October 1, 2007

1 — Limiting the Amount of Support Assigned to State

Under prior state law, as a condition of receiving TFA, program applicants had to assign to the state any right to any past, present, or future child support that the noncustodial parent might provide. Starting October 1, 2008, the act limits the assignment so that (1) it applies only to support rights that accrue during the time the family receives TFA and (2) the amount assigned can be no more than the amount of TFA the family receives.

The DRA requirement is effective October 1, 2009 but its implementation can occur anytime between October 1, 2008 and October 1, 2009.

EFFECTIVE DATE: October 1, 2008

2 — Support Enforcement Annual Fee for Non-TANF Families

The act requires the BCSE, in the case of an individual who never received Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) and for whom the state has collected at least $500 of support in a one-year period, to impose a $25 annual fee for each case in which the bureau provides services. (It is not clear whether the annual fee would be payable if collections were less than $500 in a particular year. ) TANF is a federal block grant which, in Connecticut, pays for TFA and a number of other programs, including child care assistance.

The fee can be collected in any of four ways: (1) the state retains the excess of the first $500, (2) the applicant for support enforcement pays it, (3) the state recovers if from the absent parent, or (4) the state pays it.

The DRA requires states to impose the annual fee (and establishes the four payment options) on individuals who have never received TANF-funded assistance.

EFFECTIVE DATE: October 1, 2007

5, 8, 61 — Use of National Medical Support Notice to Enforce Medical Support Orders of Custodial Parents in IV-D Cases

Federal law requires all states to use a standardized form to notify an employer to withhold premiums from an employee's income when a parent is ordered to provide health care coverage for his or her children. This form is called the National Medical Support Notice (NMSN).

The act provides that an NMSN operates to enroll a child in the custodial, as well as noncustodial parent's health care plan, making it an enforceable order. By law, this occurs only when the portion of either parent's income subject to withholding is sufficient to cover both the current child support order and health care coverage available to either parent. The act permits each parent, not just the noncustodial one, to contest these orders.

The act conforms law to practice by making it clear that the Judicial Department's Support Enforcement Services (SES), as well as BCSE, can use the NMSN to enforce medical support orders for noncustodial parents, and it extends this authority to orders for custodial parents. SES is primarily responsible for court-based enforcement of support orders.

The DRA requires that IV-D support orders include a provision for either or both parents to provide medical support, but does not require enforcement against the custodial parent. State law already authorizes medical support orders against either or both parents.

EFFECTIVE DATE: October 1, 2007

3, 7, 9, 11, 57, 62, 63 — Medical Insurance Requirement and Reasonable Cost Standards

By law, a court ordering child support must include health insurance coverage orders for the children. Under prior law, the court could order either parent to cover the child on his or her health insurance. The act specifically allows the court to require either or both parents to provide this coverage and contribute to the cost of the insurance, consistent with the new DRA requirement (although in practice the courts had already interpreted Connecticut's existing law as covering either or both parents).

Under prior law, parents had to provide this insurance only if it was available at a reasonable cost. If it was not available privately at reasonable cost, the court could require either parent to apply for the state's HUSKY B program; but it could only require noncustodial parents to do so if they could pay the appropriate premium. The act replaces the ability to pay requirement with the reasonable cost standard for either parent. It also gives the court the ability to alternatively order reasonable cash medical support.

The act specifies that the cost of health care coverage must be deemed reasonable if, under the child support guidelines (1) the obligated parent qualifies as low-income, based solely on the parent's income, and the cost does not exceed 5% of the parent's net income or (2) the obligated parent does not qualify as low-income and the cost does not exceed 7. 5% of the parent's net income. The act requires net income to be determined according to the child support guidelines. (According to Connecticut's child support guidelines, noncustodial parents are counted as low-income if their net weekly income is, for instance, under $250 and they are responsible for one child's support, $300 for two children, and gradually higher amounts for more children. ) The act requires that, if the obligated parent must obtain coverage for himself or herself to comply with the order to provide coverage for the child, reasonable cost must be determined based on the combined cost of coverage for the parent and child.

Under prior law, if the noncustodial parent in a IV-D support case was not financially able to provide health insurance and the custodial parent was the HUSKY Plan Part A or B applicant, the court could order the noncustodial parent to pay an amount the court specified. The act replaces this provision with authority for the court to order either parent to provide “cash medical support” but allows an order under this provision only if the cost to the parent obligated to maintain the insurance is reasonable as described above.

The act defines “cash medical support” as an amount (1) ordered to be paid toward the cost of premiums for health insurance provided by a public entity, including HUSKY A or B, or by another parent through employment or otherwise (the order is effective only as long as the health insurance is maintained) or (2) paid directly to a medical provider or to the person obligated to pay the provider for any of the child's ongoing extraordinary medical and dental expenses that are not covered by insurance or reimbursed in any other manner but are documented and identified specifically on the record. The act allows cash medical support to be ordered in place of an order for health insurance, effective until health insurance that is reasonable in cost and accessible to the child becomes available, or in addition to a health insurance order, as long as the combined cost of insurance and cash medical support is reasonable. As under prior law, noncustodial parents who qualify as low-income under the child support guidelines do not have to pay cash medical support to offset the cost of HUSKY A or B. The act also exempts custodial parents of children under HUSKY A or B from paying cash medical support.

The act specifies that an order for payment of the child's medical and dental expenses (other than those ongoing extraordinary expenses described above) that are not covered by insurance or reimbursed in some other way is still treated the usual way under the child support guidelines.

The act updates the definition of “support order” by adding (1) cash medical support and (2) a specific dollar amount of child care costs. (Courts already have the authority to specify the dollar amount of child care costs under the child support guidelines. )

The act requires employers to give priority to an order to withhold part of an employee's pay for medical support obligations over all support obligations, other than current child and spousal support, when a child support enforcement agency issues an NMSN to inform an employer about the medical support order and the employer's obligation under it, including the obligation to withhold funds from the employee's pay for the health insurance ordered.

It also makes conforming changes in other sections of statute.

EFFECTIVE DATE: October 1, 2007

60 — EXTENSION OF AUTOMATIC SUSPENSION OF PRIOR SUPPORT ORDER OR CHANGE OF PAYEE WHEN COURT TRANSFERS CUSTODY IN FAMILY RELATIONS MATTERS BUT FAILS TO ADDRESS SUPPORT

The law requires that if a probate court in a guardianship matter or the Superior Court in a juvenile matter changes the custody of a child who is subject to a pre-existing support order but fails to address a change in support, the custody change operates to (1) automatically suspend the pre-existing support order if custody is transferred to the obligor under the support order or (2) modify the payee of the support order to be the person the court awards custody to, if that person is someone other than the obligor.

The act extends this requirement to all types of Superior Court family relations matters, not just juvenile matters.

EFFECTIVE DATE: October 1, 2007

6 — POST-MAJORITY SUPPORT FOR CHILD OF DIVORCED OR SEPARATED PARENTS NOT LIVING WITH A PARENT

The act requires continuation of support payments for children who are subject to support orders in marriage dissolution cases, even if they do not live with a parent, beyond age 18. The continuation lasts up to the age of 19 or until the child completes the 12th grade, whichever occurs first. Last year, PA 06-149 made this same change for various other types of support orders to include children living with a caretaker other than their parent.

EFFECTIVE DATE: October 1, 2007

4, 10, 12, 13, 58, 59 — PROMULGATION OF AGREEMENT AND PETITION FORMS FOR IV-D CASES

The act removes the requirement for the Office of the Chief Court Administrator to prescribe various IV-D and non-IV-D forms for paternity and support petitions, orders, and agreements.

EFFECTIVE DATE: October 1, 2007

14 - 56 — UIFSA CHANGES

The act makes many changes to Connecticut's Uniform Interstate Family Support Act (UIFSA) so that it more closely matches the 1991 version of the model law adopted by the National Council of Commissioners of Uniform State Laws. Participating states generally follow UIFSA rules when support orders involve more than one state's jurisdiction. All U. S. states have enacted laws modeled on UIFSA.

The act's major changes include (1) limiting a Connecticut court's authority to modify child and spousal support orders, (2) bringing more foreign countries under UIFSA rules, (3) modifying choice of law rules, and (4) simplifying procedures for enforcing or modifying income withholding orders (such as wage garnishments) issued by other states.

Responding and Initiating Tribunals

The law authorizes state tribunals (defined as courts, administrative agencies, or quasi-judicial authorities both in the United States and, when certain conditions are met, abroad) to act as either initiating or responding tribunals in proceedings to establish, enforce, or modify support orders or to determine paternity. The tribunal that requests another state's assistance is the initiating tribunal. The tribunal that provides the assistance is the responding tribunal. Connecticut's tribunals are the Superior Court and its Family Support Magistrate (FSM) Division.

17, 18, 21, 22, 50, & 5 — Rules for Court Jurisdiction: Support Orders

The law generally prohibits any tribunal from issuing, enforcing, or modifying support orders unless it has the authority to make its action legally binding on both (1) the party entitled to or seeking support (the obligee) and (2) the party responsible, or claimed to be responsible, for paying support (the obligor). In most cases, this requirement is met when the court has established personal jurisdiction over the parties.

UIFSA has its own rules governing personal jurisdiction and also recognizes personal jurisdiction based on any other constitutionally acceptable means. The act specifies that once the court has established personal jurisdiction in a UIFSA support matter, it has continuing, exclusive jurisdiction to modify and enforce its order until another court's order supersedes it.

Residency Rules. In addition to rules for establishing personal jurisdiction, UIFSA also has residency rules that the parties must satisfy in order to pursue claims in Connecticut courts. These rules vary depending on whether the action involves (1) establishing a support order or (2) modifying or enforcing an existing order.

The act revises the residency rules governing modification and enforcement actions when the original order was issued in another jurisdiction. Under the law, a Connecticut court can act only if one of the following tests is met:

1. (a) neither the child nor parents live in the issuing state, (b) the parent seeking the modification does not live in Connecticut, and (c) the Connecticut court has personal jurisdiction over the other parent or

2. (a) the child lives in Connecticut or the court has personal jurisdiction over at least one parent and (b) both parents have consented in the court that issued the original order to the Connecticut court exercising jurisdiction over the proceedings.

The act limits the circumstances under which an FSM can exercise its personal jurisdiction over people who live out-of-state.

The act specifies that UIFSA procedures for establishing or enforcing support orders are not exclusive and do not override other methods for doing so under Connecticut law. But it prohibits Connecticut courts from including child custody or visitation disputes in matters governed exclusively by UIFSA.

15, 28, 29, & 31— Foreign Governments

The act expands UIFSA's applicability to foreign governments. Prior law applied only in foreign jurisdictions with laws similar to UIFSA or its predecessors. The act instead makes it applicable to foreign countries or their political subdivisions with (1) reciprocal child support arrangements with this state, as determined by the attorney general; (2) reciprocating country status, as determined by federal law; or (3) comity doctrines entitling the foreign government's court orders to recognition by Connecticut courts.

The act also allows FSMs to modify a foreign entity's child support order when the entity will not, or cannot, act. It may do so regardless of whether the party seeking modification is (1) a Connecticut resident or (2) all of the parties have consented to the FSM issuing a modification order. The act makes the Connecticut order controlling.

Currency Conversions. When an action involves a foreign country, the act requires Connecticut tribunals and support enforcement agencies to convert monetary demands into that country's currency, if requested. The act also requires Connecticut tribunals registering or enforcing orders issued by foreign countries to convert foreign currency calculations into U. S. dollars. In either case, they must use the country's publicly reported official or market exchange rate.

21 — Continuing, Exclusive Jurisdiction

The act modifies the rules for determining when Connecticut courts have continuing, exclusive jurisdiction to modify their own child support orders. They may do so if the order is the controlling order (see below) and either:

1. the child or either parent lived in Connecticut when the action was filed or

2. if neither of the parents nor the child lived in Connecticut, the parties consented in a record or in open court to the Connecticut court continuing to exercise jurisdiction over the modification.

Under prior law, at least one party or the child had to maintain continuous Connecticut residence while the matter was before the court. And the parties' consent had to be given in a Connecticut court.

Under UIFSA, Connecticut courts lose continuing, exclusive jurisdiction to modify child support orders when notified that the parties agreed to another court's jurisdiction. The act specifies that the notice must indicate that the new tribunal has established personal jurisdiction over at least one of the parents or is located in the state where the child lives.

The act also specifies that Connecticut courts that lack continuing, exclusive jurisdiction may serve as initiating tribunals, requesting that another state modify a Connecticut support order.

And, unlike under prior law, they may serve as responding tribunals when their continuing jurisdiction is not exclusive.

19, 27 & 45 — Choice of Law

By law, Connecticut applies its own procedural and substantive laws in enforcement and modification actions when both parents live in Connecticut and the child does not live in the state that issued the order (i. e. , UIFSA's special choice of law rules do not apply).

The act modifies UIFSA's choice of law rules. It restricts the general rule that the law of the state that issued the order controls (1) the nature, extent, amount, and duration of current support; (2) the existence and satisfaction of other support obligations; and (3) payment of arrearages. The act creates an exception for matters in which a court has already determined which support order is controlling and issued an order consolidating any arrears. In that situation, the act directs Connecticut courts to apply the law of the state that issued the controlling order, including its law on interest, arrears, current and future support, and on consolidated arrears.

It adds that the law of the issuing state controls how arrearage amounts and interest are calculated. It also specifies that when a Connecticut court is acting as a responding tribunal, it must apply this state's laws concerning procedures and remedies to enforce current support and collect arrears and interest due.

Prior law directed Connecticut courts to apply their own conflict of law rules when acting as responding tribunals unless UIFSA provided otherwise. The act eliminates this directive. It retains the requirement that Connecticut's responding tribunals base their rulings on support obligations and amounts on Connecticut law and the state child support guidelines.

23 — Determining Which Order Is Controlling

Prior law permitted only individuals (i. e. , parents) to seek court rulings on which of two or more child support orders was controlling (i. e. , entitled to legal recognition). The act allows state child support enforcement agencies to seek these rulings.

By law, FSMs must issue written rulings identifying which order is controlling and how they reached this conclusion. The act also requires that they state (1) prospective support amounts and (2) consolidated arrearage and accrued interest amounts. The latter calculation must be based on all orders after all payments have been credited according to UIFSA rules.

UIFSA requires the party that requested the court ruling on which order was controlling to file a certified copy of the court's decision with each tribunal that issued or registered an earlier order. If the party fails to do so, the act authorizes any tribunal affected by the inaction to impose appropriate sanctions.

28 — Duties of Initiating Tribunal

Prior law authorized Connecticut courts, when acting as the initiating tribunal, to comply with a responding tribunal's request for documentation only when the responding tribunal had not enacted the UIFSA. The act requires the Connecticut court to provide these materials to any responding state that requests them.

50 — Modifying Child Support Orders Issued by Other Tribunals

The law prohibits an FSM from modifying any aspect of other states' support orders (different rules apply to foreign orders) that could not be modified under the law of the issuing state. The act specifies that this includes aspects that govern the duration of the support obligations. The law of the state that issued the initial controlling order governs the nature and duration of the support obligation and Connecticut courts cannot expand the terms of a support obligation.

51 Limiting Connecticut's Ability to Enforce Portions of its Own Orders

After another state has modified a child support order issued in Connecticut, FSMs retained authority under prior law to enforce (1) non-modifiable aspects of the order and (2) arrearages owed before its order was modified. The act eliminates the FSM's ability to enforce non-modifiable aspects of its order. But it allows an FSM to bring proceedings to collect the interest that had accrued on its order.

31 — Duties of Support Enforcement Agency

The act requires the Judicial Department's Support Enforcement Services Division (SES) to make reasonable efforts to ensure that any Connecticut child support order it registers for enforcement or modification be either:

1. the controlling order or

2. if two or more orders exist and the controlling order has not been determined, to ensure that a request for such a determination is made in the appropriate tribunal.

The act also requires SES to issue, or ask a magistrate to issue, child support and income withholding orders redirecting current support, arrears, and interest payments to another state's SES on request.

40 — Receipts and Disbursements

The law requires the Connecticut Bureau of Child Support Enforcement (the administrative enforcement division of the Department of Social Services) or the FSM Division to promptly disburse child support payments it collects in the manner specified by the applicable support order. These entities must also send payment records to other tribunals on request. When neither the obligor, obligee, nor child lives in Connecticut, the act requires these entities to respond to requests from child support enforcement agencies or tribunals by:

1. directing that the support payment be made to the support enforcement agency in the state where the obligee is receiving services and

2. issue and send the obligor's employer a conforming income withholding order to an administrative notice of change of payee, reflecting the redirected payments.

The act requires that, when Connecticut's child support enforcement agency receives redirected UIFSA payments from another state, it furnish a requesting party or other state tribunal a certified statement of the amount of all payments received.

35 — Confidentiality of Personally Identifying Information

The act automatically seals personally identifying information in child support case files when a party submits a sworn statement indicating that disclosure would jeopardize the child or parent's health, safety, or liberty. The information cannot be disclosed to the other party or the public unless the court holds a hearing on the issue and determines that it is in the interest of justice to release some or all of the information.

Prior law permitted disclosure unless (1) a court found that disclosure would unnecessarily put a child or party at risk or (2) an existing order mandated nondisclosure.

38 — Rules of Evidence and Procedure

The act modifies UIFSA's special physical presence rules. Prior law permitted Connecticut courts, when acting as responding tribunals, to (1) establish, enforce, or modify support orders or (2) make paternity determinations, without the petitioner being physically present. The act allows responding courts to issue these rulings when the respondent is not physically present. It also makes these rules applicable in UIFSA cases where the Connecticut court is acting as the issuing tribunal. (As under existing law, the court's rulings will only be binding on those over whom it has established personal jurisdiction. )

The act allows certified copies of voluntary paternity acknowledgments to be used as evidence, creating an exception to the general rule that out-of-court statements cannot be used to establish the truth of the factual matters they contain (the hearsay rule).

The act also requires FSMs to allow out-of-state parties and witnesses to be deposed or testify in their home states. Prior law gave the FSM the discretion to approve or deny such requests. Connecticut courts must cooperate with other tribunals in designating appropriate locations.

41 — Temporary Support Orders

The act changes the standards for issuing temporary child support orders. Under prior law, FSMs could issue such orders if the respondent:

1. signed a verified paternity acknowledgment;

2. had been legally determined to be the parent; or

3. was found, by clear and convincing evidence, to be the parent (genetic test results indicating at least 99% probability of paternity is sufficient evidence).

The act adds a requirement that the FSM make a finding that the support order is appropriate. It expands the factual bases justifying its action to include when the respondent is:

1. a presumed father of the child,

2. alleged to be the father but refusing genetic testing,

3. the child's mother, or

4. an individual subject to an existing child support order that has not been reversed or vacated.

As under existing law, the court must give the person alleged to owe support notice and the opportunity to be heard before issuing its order.

44 & 56 — Procedure to Register an Order for Enforcement

Existing UIFSA law establishes procedures and document filing requirements for registering support and income withholding orders issued in other states in order to obtain SES enforcement services. When more than one order is in effect, the person seeking to register it must also provide copies; identify which order, if any, is claimed to be controlling; and specify the amount of consolidated arrears.

The act also specifies that a request for a determination of which order is controlling may be filed separately or in conjunction with requests to enforce or register and modify an order. The requestor must notify each party whose rights might be affected.

The act also allows an obligor to contest the validity or enforcement of an income withholding order by registering it with SES and filing a legal challenge.

46 — Notice of Registration of Order

UIFSA directs SES or the FSM Division to notify the nonregistering party when a support or withholding order from another state is registered in Connecticut. It specifies information that must be in the notice, including that failing to contest the order's validity will result in its automatic confirmation and enforcement. The act requires that, when the registering party claims that two or more orders are in effect, the notice also:

1. identify the multiple orders and which one, if any, the registrant claims is controlling and the amount of consolidated arrears being sought;

2. inform the nonregistrant of the right to obtain a determination of which order is controlling and time limits for requesting the enforcement order's validity; and

3. specify that the same automatic confirmation and enforcement rules apply to orders involving controlling order determinations.

21 & 22—Alimony

Under prior law, Connecticut courts had continuing, exclusive jurisdiction over alimony (spousal support) orders throughout the entire period of the obligation. The act limits this rule to matters concerning the order's modification. It authorizes the court to serve as (1) an initiating tribunal, asking another tribunal to enforce the order or (2) a responding tribunal, to enforce or modify it at another tribunal's request.

OLR Tracking: RC-SP/KM/JL/TS