Georgia and other states are benefiting from an aggressive federal initiative to prod wayward parents into honoring their child support obligations — holding back their passports.

Apparently, scofflaws are quicker to make good on their back support when a Caribbean vacation is in jeopardy. In the last fiscal year, Georgia collected $661,727 from offenders facing canceled sojourns in Europe or conferences in Asia. In one case, the threat of a passport denial prompted a delinquent parent to turn over $52,000 in owed support. The money collected is sent to the custodial parents and children.

"Although vacationing is important, nothing is more important than our obligations to our children," says Georgia Office of Child Support Services Director Cindy Moss.

The federal Passport Denial Program allows the withholding of passports from noncustodial parents who owe more than $2,500 in back support. Once the parents pay up or arrange a payment schedule approved by their state child support enforcement agency, the federal government resumes the passport application or renewal process.

In the first half of 2007, states collected more than $22.5 million through the passport program. That large payoff reflects changes this year requiring that Americans visiting Canada, Mexico, Central and South America, the Caribbean and Bermuda must for the first time have passports to return to the country. As a result of that new rule, applications for passports surged this year. So did child support repayments.

Increasingly, states are finding creative ways to collect unpaid child support, which is estimated to run in the billions of dollars. They can suspend or deny professional, occupational and driver’s licenses, and seize bank accounts, property or cars.

Such zealous efforts benefit not only the children, but the taxpayers who are often called upon to provide basic services to the child who is not receiving court-ordered support. If parents can afford airline tickets, they can afford to contribute to the welfare of their children.

SOURCE: Atlanta Journal Constitution and a story by Maureen Downey