New Global Child Support Convention Holds Promise for Millions of Children Worldwide

When global statistics show that single parents face disproportionately high rates of poverty, the importance of collecting cross-border child support cannot be overstated.
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In 1924, the League of Nations -- precursor to the United Nations -- passed the Declaration on the Rights of the Child, proclaiming that "mankind owes to the Child the best that it has to give," and that "[t]he child must be given the means requisite for its normal development, both materially and spiritually."

For a child relying on support payments from an uncooperative parent in another country, the material means necessary to his or her development are often elusive to obtain. In the absence of a binding international treaty, a court in the child's jurisdiction may refuse to enforce a child-support order from a court in the absent parent's jurisdiction (citing, for example, the difficulties of serving notice across borders). And the costs of navigating the current labyrinth of international, regional and bilateral agreements on child-support enforcement may be prohibitive compared to the small amounts of money generally at stake.

But even a small amount of support can make a huge difference to a child's life. In an era of rapid globalization, when 232 million people live outside their countries of origin according to UN estimates, and global statistics show that single parents face disproportionately high rates of poverty, the importance of collecting cross-border child support cannot be overstated. One study in Colombia found, for example, that regular child-support payments to poor families brought 32 per cent of them out of poverty, with even larger effects for families living in extreme poverty. Billions of dollars at are stake globally; the U.S. alone collects and distributes $27 billion in child support each year. Experts estimate that there are at least one million outstanding cases of unpaid cross-border child support globally.

In response, the United States has pioneered new enforcement mechanisms for child-support collection; in 2012, it collected $29 million under regulations denying the passport application of any individual owing more than $2,500 in unpaid child support. And today, the United States has an opportunity to further its longstanding commitment to the protection of children by passing implementing legislation and promoting the widespread ratification of the 2007 Hague Convention on the International Recovery of Child Support.

The Convention, which the United States has signed, represents a modern and innovative multilateral solution to the problems of cross-border child-support collection. It has the potential to concretely improve the lives of millions of children, single parents and other vulnerable persons around the world. And in its comprehensiveness and reach, it will replace, over time, at least five international instruments and simplify the current patchwork of bilateral agreements, making it harder for the many cross-border "fugitives" to elude their maintenance obligations.

The Convention will accomplish these ends by requiring states to recognize and enforce one another's child support and maintenance orders. It also incorporates several novel enforcement features, including a requirement that access to legal procedures be provided cost-free to creditors for child-support applications; a provision permitting the retroactive collection of child support owed prior to the entry into force of the Convention; the establishment of a modern global case-management system to facilitate international money transfers; and a variety of other procedures strengthening internal and international enforcement.

Widespread global ratification and implementation of the Convention, including by the United States, would strengthen the international commitment to protecting children's rights. That commitment already encompasses the tireless work of the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), the near-universal adoption of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC), and the special focus on children in the Millennium Development Goals.

Nearer to home, the United States has devoted strong policy commitments to child support issues since the 1970s. It is unsurprising, therefore, that the United States took the lead by signing the Hague Child Support Convention on the very day it was adopted. Following the signing, the House of Representatives passed legislation to implement the Convention. Among other measures, the bill encourages the states to enact the Uniform Interstate Family Support Act, the model legislation which inspired many of the Convention's provisions. At this juncture, although the Senate approved the Convention in 2010, it has yet to pass any implementing legislation.

By moving quickly to implement the Convention, the United States would exercise its leadership and accelerate widespread global ratification. As a major world economy hosting a population with diverse international connections, the United States represents a critical jurisdiction for the collection of child support. By implementing the Convention, the U.S. would better the lives of millions of children worldwide.