Bankruptcy and Child Support Enforcement: Improved Information Sharing Possible without Routine Data Matching
Recognizing the importance of child support, the Bankruptcy Abuse Prevention and Consumer Protection Act of 2005 requires that if a parent with child support obligations files for bankruptcy, a bankruptcy trustee must notify the relevant custodial parent and state child support enforcement agency so that they may participate in the case. The act also required GAO to study the feasibility of matching bankruptcy records with child support records to assure that filers with child support obligations are identified. GAO therefore (1) identified the percent of bankruptcy filers with obligations nationwide, (2) examined the potential for routine data matching to facilitate the identification of filers with child support obligations, and (3) studied the feasibility and cost of doing so. GAO interviewed child support enforcement and bankruptcy officials at the federal level and in six states. GAO also conducted a nationwide test data match and reviewed national bankruptcy filings for people with support obligations in Texas for an indication of whether filers are failing to provide this information.
Recommendations for Executive Action
|Department of Justice||To help improve the bankruptcy trustee notification process for state child support enforcement agencies called for under the Bankruptcy Reform Act, the Attorney General should direct the Director of the Executive Office for U.S. Trustees to more actively encourage case trustees to provide state agencies the full SSNs of bankruptcy filers. This could be accomplished, for example, by working with case trustees to identify and address any issues related to implementation of the current guidance, such as lack of clarity in the guidance or concerns about preserving the security of SSNs.||
The Executive Office for U.S. Trustees (EOUST) agreed with the recommendation and reissued its guidance and revised its policy handbook to case trustees about the importance of providing full SSNs to state agencies as well as raising awareness of this issue through training. Further, EOUST modified its existing statements of work for trustee audits to ensure that auditors review domestic support obligation notices to ensure that case trustees are providing full SSNs of debtors to state agencies in compliance with the trustee handbook.
|Judicial Conference of the United States||To help improve the bankruptcy trustee notification process for state child support enforcement agencies called for under the Bankruptcy Reform Act, the Judicial Conference of the United States should work with bankruptcy administrators in the six bankruptcy court districts in Alabama and North Carolina not subject to Executive Office of U.S. Trustees guidance to examine whether case trustees should provide state agencies with the full SSN of bankruptcy filers. This might be done in the following ways: (1) inform bankruptcy administrators and the bankruptcy court judges in those six districts about the importance of including the full SSN, how this information would be used by state agencies if provided, and to do so in a way that preserves the security of the information; and (2) work with the bankruptcy administrators and bankruptcy court judges in those six districts to identify and if possible, address any issues or concerns, including the security of the information, related to the use of full SSNs in the notices.||
The Judicial Conference agreed with our recommendation and sent the GAO report to the bankruptcy courts and bankruptcy administrators in Alabama and North Carolina. Further, the Judicial Conference sent a letter to the relevant state-child support agencies inviting them to provide suggestions to make the interaction between the bankruptcy process and the child support enforcement system more effective. These actions will help ensure the identification of bankruptcy filers with child support obligations and improve the current system for notifying state agencies.