A program known as Passport Denial prevents someone who is otherwise eligible for a U.S. passport from getting a passport if they owe more than $2,500 in child support. This rule originates from a 1997 amendment to the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act. Thus, even if you have become a U.S. citizen, you will not be able to get a passport if you have child support arrears beyond the threshold amount. (The threshold amount has been reduced in the past and could be reduced again.) If you already have a passport, you may find that the government revokes or restricts it if it has physical control over the passport. Most often, this happens during the renewal process.
You might wonder how the U.S. government knows when a citizen has child support arrears. The Department of Health and Human Services, a federal government agency, works with county district attorney offices to develop a list of people who owe child support. The district attorney offices also report the amount that each individual owes to DHHS, which shares its information with the U.S. Passport Agency.
Resolving a Child Support Issue Regarding Your Passport
You will need to arrange a way to pay your child support arrears or otherwise resolve the issue through your state or local child support agency. You cannot resolve the issue by calling DHHS or the Passport Agency, since they do not have the power to take your name off the list until the arrears are resolved. Sometimes a parent will have child support arrears in more than one state, and they would need to resolve the arrears in every state before getting a passport.
Once you have resolved the arrears, the state or local child support agency will ask DHHS to take your name off the list of people who owe child support. If you previously applied for a passport while owing arrears, the Passport Agency already will have notified you that it will deny your application for a passport on this basis. DHHS will clear your name from the list within a few weeks, and the Passport Agency will keep your application for up to 90 days after the notification of denial. If DHHS clears your name before the 90-day period expires, the Passport Agency will proceed with your current application and provide you with a passport. Otherwise, you will need to submit a new application for a passport.