Adults are usually free to travel wherever they like – unless they want to leave the country and they happen to be behind in their child support obligations. You need a passport to travel abroad, and if your child support arrears reach a certain point, the Federal Office of Child Support Enforcement will step in to make sure Passport Services denies your application. Your only option is pay what you owe, and to do so well in advance of your trip because the process of lifting the denial can take some time.
If your child support arrears reach $2,500, your state's child support enforcement agency is obligated to report you to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, which oversees the Federal Office of Child Support Enforcement. Under the terms of the Passport Denial Program, the OCSE alerts the U.S. Department of State that you owe arrears. The State Department then issues a notice to Passport Services that you're ineligible for a passport, and without one, you can't travel to Europe.
You're not necessarily in the clear if you already have a passport and don't have to worry about applying for one. Some state child support enforcement agencies, such as those in Georgia and California, will set a similar process into motion to revoke your passport when your child support obligation reaches a certain point of arrears. If it's expired, state CSEAs can alert the State Department to prevent you from renewing your passport as well. Having your passport revoked when you're already overseas could cause you some major difficulties, so it never hurts to check the status of your child support account with your state before you travel.
Restoring Travel Privileges
If the OCSE denies your passport, you can't pay just enough to get your arrears down below the $2,500 limit. You must pay the entire past-due balance to your state's child support enforcement agency. If your passport has been denied, Passport Services will hold your application for 90 days, so you have this long to bring your child support account current. Then you'll have to allow time for your state's CSEA to reverse the process and notify the OCSE that you've paid, which can take another few weeks. Once it receives notice that you're current, Passport Services can go ahead and process your application. If more than 90 days has passed, however, you'll have to apply all over again.
If you're not paying your child support through state services, it's unlikely that your state's CSEA will takes steps to revoke or deny your passport for arrears. If you don't pay through the state, your CSEA wouldn't be aware that you've fallen behind with your payments. However, if your ex-spouse is aware that you plan to travel to Europe, she can apply for state services and notify the CSEA of your arrears. In some states, this is as simple as filling out an application for child support services online. If your arrears are over $2,500, the CSEA will move to block your passport. If your trip to Europe is for emergency purposes, such as an illness or death in the family, some states, such as California, will allow you to appeal the denial or revocation of your passport, but you may need the consent of your ex-spouse.