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International Treaty On Child Support At Heart Of Idaho Special Session

Jessica Robinson
Northwest News Network
Kathleen Clark works on child support cases at the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare's office in Coeur d'Alene.

Dozens of countries, including the U.S., have agreed on how to handle child support payments when one parent is in a different country. But the state of Idaho is holding out.

Now the issue is forcing Idaho lawmakers to return to the Capitol. They’re expected to reconsider a measure on interstate and international child support cases.

The federal government says if Idaho doesn’t adopt the rules as other states have, it could lose access to key databases.

Kathleen Clark with the state Department of Health and Welfare said Idaho needs those federal networks to enforce child support orders.

“It takes us decades, really, back in the program. When it was calling was really the only thing you could do. Calling them and asking them to pay. Calling them and asking them where they work. If you have a phone number even to call them at. Or writing a letter -- if you have an address,” Clark explained. “So, what it would mean really for us is just parents would be going without their child support.”

Clark pulled up a legal document from Canada on her computer in Coeur d’Alene. It showed a father in Idaho hasn’t been paying support to his child’s mother north of the border.

Clark said on their own, the Canadian authorities would be stuck.

“You would be calling and saying, ‘Hey please would you pay,’ but there would be limited things they could do beyond that,” she said.

But because of a reciprocity agreement with Canada, Idaho will step in to garnish the father’s wages.

The U.S. is now hoping to establish similar arrangements with the European Union and other countries. But the treaty needs state buy-in.

Conservative Idaho lawmakers refused in the first go-round. They feared Idaho would be required to enforce foreign laws it doesn’t agree with.

Idaho lawmakers are preparing to hammer out a compromise. Idaho’s child welfare officials say about $200 million in annual child support payments depend on the outcome of the special session.