If a couple has children and then decide that they no longer want to remain together, they go through custody proceedings in court to determine the physical and legal custody of their children after the separation. However, even though a judge will order a parent to pay child support, some parents still try to avoid making those payments.
The other parent may be able to get tax information from the IRS to help collect child support. However, there are more extreme situations where the IRS will not release tax information. In cases where children are abducted, the IRS will not release any data in order to protect taxpayer privacy.
Sometimes one parent will abduct a child from the other parent who was granted primary child custody. In those situations, the IRS cannot help locate the other parent using data from tax filings unless the abduction is being federally investigated.
These types of situations occur more often than most people think. Reports by the Department of Justice assert that over 200,000 family abductions occur each year. In many of those cases, the abductor will not stay in one place, but travels in order to evade detection. They will also use a false identity, making it very difficult for authorities to find them.
But despite their desire to avoid detection, many still file a federal income tax return. The tax returns usually contain the Social Security numbers of children whom they are claiming as dependents. This act can alert the custodial parent that someone else has claimed their child as a dependent.
At this point however, the IRS cannot legally provide information in abduction situations. One concern with handing over taxpayer information is that it could mean less privacy for individuals in general. But a question that is raised by the article is whether a balance can be reached that protects people's privacy but also helps parents locate their missing children.
Source: New York Times online, "I.R.S. Sits on Data Pointing to Missing Children," David Kocieniewski, 12 November 2010