By Denise Hurchanik Bareilles, CILS Eureka office Acting Directing Attorney

You have probably seen in the media various groups painting a picture that tribal governments make it difficult to collect child support for custodial parents. However, this is not the case. It is important to understand the significance of a Tribe administering its own child support agency instead of acting as an arm of the state’s child support enforcement unit. Tribes have the inherent sovereign authority to regulate the domestic relations matters of its members, which includes establishing and enforcing child support orders. Tribes may develop this program unique to its customs, traditions and laws by setting up their own agency through tribal dollars or applying for funds from the federal agency Administration of Children & Families, Office of Child Support Enforcement (ACF, OCSE).

There are currently 60 tribal Title IV-D child support agencies nationwide that are funded by the OCSE.  However, additional tribal child support agencies exist that that rely primarily on tribal dollars.

Some Benefits To Setting up a Tribal Title IV-D Child Support Program:

  • A maximum of $500,000.00 over a period of two (2) years to plan for the start-up of a Title IV-D tribal child support program in compliance with federal regulations found at 45 CFR Part 309.
  • After planning ends, the agency’s budget is funded 90% by the OCSE and 10% by the tribal government during the first three years of the program’s operation (i.e., direct services). Thereafter, the agency’s budget is funded 80% by the OCSE and 20% by the tribal government.
  • Development of tribal self-governance programs.
  • Providing employment for tribal members.
  • Development of tribal law addressing child support, including the tribe’s own child support guidelines.
  • Allowance for non-monetary forms of payment specific to tribe’s culture and tradition. Some Tribes have provided for support through fish and/or firewood upon agreement of the parties. The support order must describe the type of non-cash support that will be permitted to satisfy the underlying specific dollar amount of the support order.
  • Development of policy and law regarding income withholding orders, and attachment of other membership resources under the tribe’s jurisdiction.
  • Development of policy and law regarding intergovernmental case processing between the Tribe’s child support agency and agencies outside of the tribal government. Outside agencies must refer their foreign orders to the tribal agency for case processing consistent to the tribe’s policies and laws.
  • Development of policy and law regarding paternity establishment.
  • The tribal agency may design its program to transfer tribal child support cases from the state system to the tribal system for case management and legal court proceedings. California Rule of Court 5.372 specifies the case transfer procedure.
  • The tribal agency may develop a Memorandum of Understanding with the state child support agency to detail how cases are worked between governments.
  • The federal Full Faith and Credit for Child Support Orders Act (28 USC § 1738B) requires that courts give full faith and credit to another government’s child support court orders.

Applying for Title IV-D Funds:

Tribal governments that are interested in developing a child support agency in compliance with 45 CFR Part 309 may apply for start-up funds with the ACF, OCSE. Funds are available on an annual basis upon the grantor’s approval of the Tribe’s Title IV-D Plan. Interested tribes should have federal recognition, at least 100 minor children within its jurisdiction, and a Tribal Court (which may include a tribal consortium court). OCSE has a central office in Washington, DC and a regional office in San Francisco, CA (Region 9) that services the California Tribes. A start-up grant application may be submitted at any time of the year. There is no specific due date.