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Children thrive when they receive the needed support and love from their parents—regardless of custody status. This includes not only emotional support, but financial support as well. Child support enforcement services are partnerships between Federal, State, local and Tribal entities which aim to provide family-centered services in the location of parents, establishment of paternity, and establishment of support orders and collection of support payments. The Child Support section on the SSRC highlights current research and programs in such key issue areas as arrears, incarceration, multiple partner fertility, non-resident parent involvement, visitation, payment incentives and barriers, and work incentives and barriers.
View recommendations from the SSRC Librarian on Child Support and relevant federal laws and regulations below.
Research on the relationship between child support and pathways to self-sufficiency for low-income individuals and families frequently discusses child support arrears and modification and multiple partner fertility. Click the phrase below to view selected research and resources relevant to child support arrears and modification and multiple partner fertility.
Below are selections from the SSRC Library on child support arrears and modification. Click the titles to learn more about the research and resources.
This report provides a profile of noncustodial parents (NCPs) based on the percentage of current support they paid during a one-year period. It is important to note that the majority of NCPs paid something toward their support. However, the difference in employment and earnings between those who paid a small percentage and those who paid most of their support has clear implications for NCPs’ ability to pay. Specifically, those who paid the least also earned the least, but were expected to pay more than 50% of their earnings toward their current support. Most NCPs, regardless of their actual earnings, only paid between 20% and 30% of their income toward child support. (author abstract)
Our nation’s families are undergoing a sea change. Over the last 30 years, as wages have stagnated and declined, more unmarried couples are living together and having children. Fewer than half of adults with lower incomes and less education are now married, and marriage has increasingly become the norm only among couples with higher incomes and college educations. The economic challenges facing low-income families are especially acute for black parents and their children: 73% are born to unmarried parents. The risk of economic hardship for children is even greater in mother-headed households. Child support enforcement—typically transferring money from the father to the mother—is often thought of as one way to reduce poverty among children and families. However, this only works if the father has enough income or assets to be able to pay. According to the US Census Bureau, the large majority—70 percent—of custodial parents with children living in poverty receive no child support whatsoever. For black custodial parents, this figure rises to 75 percent. (author introduction)
Below are selections from the SSRC Library on child support enforcement. Click the titles to learn more about the research and resources.
Over the past few decades, the federal government has intensified child support enforcement policies in response to high rates of child poverty and single-mother households. This study provides a comprehensive review of empirical, peer-reviewed articles from the past 20 years on the direct effects of child support enforcement policies on payments to custodial mothers and the indirect effects of these policies on behaviors such as fertility, sexual activity, welfare utilization, father involvement, and labor participation. The review indicates that child support enforcement has contributed to an increase in child support payments to custodial mothers. Additionally, strong enforcement is associated with low nonmarital fertility, risky sexual behavior, and welfare utilization and high father involvement. Policy implications are discussed. (author abstract)
In fiscal year 2009, the CSE program experienced several departures from past trends. For one, child support collections failed to increase nationwide for the first time in the history of the program in fiscal year 2009. HHS has reported that the recent recession contributed to the 1.8 percent decrease in child support collections. In addition, the amount of collections intercepted from unemployment insurance benefits nearly tripled, while collections automatically withheld from wages—the major source of collections—decreased for the first time. Also in fiscal year 2009, the number of CSE cases currently receiving public assistance increased, reversing another long-standing trend. This change is significant because it contributed to increased numbers of hard-to-collect cases in the CSE program, as noncustodial parents of children receiving public assistance are less likely to have a child support order in place and may have low wages with little available for collections. In fiscal years 2008 and 2009, states generally maintained their overall levels of CSE expenditures, although state officials told GAO they were concerned about ongoing budgetary constraints linked to economic conditions and uncertainty about funding levels. Preliminary HHS data show that total CSE expenditures grew by 2.6 percent in fiscal year 2008 as many states increased their own funding to maintain CSE operations when the federal incentive match was eliminated. Some state officials attributed this increase in part to state lawmakers’ broad support for the program. In contrast to fiscal year 2008, a different picture emerged in fiscal year 2009, when the incentive match was temporarily restored but total CSE expenditures fell slightly by 1.8 percent, which HHS officials told GAO was due to state budget constraints. Most states nationwide have not implemented “family first” policy options since DRA. Several state CSE officials GAO interviewed said they support “family first” policies in principle, but funding constraints prevented implementing these options, because giving more child support collections to families means states retain less as reimbursement for public assistance costs. (author abstract)
To help low-income noncustodial parents find work and pay child support, the New York Legislature enacted the Strengthening Families Through Stronger Fathers Initiative in 2006, offering a refundable tax credit and work-oriented programs to noncustodial parents. This report summarizes findings from our evaluation of the initiative and discusses the characteristics of noncustodial parents who participated. These findings suggest that allocating new funding to the employment-oriented component of the initiative and extending the tax credit would improve employment outcomes and child support compliance among noncustodial parents. (author abstract)
Below are selections from the SSRC Library on child support and multiple-partner fertility. Click the titles to learn more about the research and resources.
In the United States, multipartnered fertility (MPF) has become commonplace. This study provides the first nationally representative measures of women’s MPF, across multiple years, using the U.S. Census Bureau’s Surveys of Income and Program Participation. Because welfare rules contain strong incentives for MPF, and because MPF is especially common among welfare recipients, the authors also examine the relationship between welfare and MPF. Focusing on the pre-TANF period 1985 to 1996, when welfare rules were more comparable across states and the absence of time limits made the incentives for MPF larger, the authors find little behavioral response. Among low-income mothers, MPF does not appear to be driven by program design. Because the incentives were relatively large and reached well up the income distribution, the findings amplify those of earlier studies that show little demographic response to antipoverty programs and invite reconsideration of how much these incentives should constrain transfer programs that target children. (author abstract)
Family complexity that results when adults have children with multiple partners (multiple-partner fertility) is quite common. It also has important implications for understanding child support outcomes and for designing and evaluating welfare and family policy. Using a unique set of merged administrative data, this article provides the first comprehensive documentation of levels of family complexity among a broad sample of welfare recipients. The analyses suggest that family complexity is very common and also that complexity is associated with systematically different child support outcomes. (author abstract)
When parents have children from multiple partners, the resulting complex families challenge conventions concerning parents' rights and responsibilities. These challenges are particularly salient for child support policies, which articulate parents' obligations to their children and determine the amount of support due. Data from Wisconsin suggest that complex families are fairly common and that nonresident fathers' earnings in these families are typically quite low. The prevalence of these families and their economic vulnerability make expectations about child support particularly important, but family complexity creates tension among key principles underlying the child support system. This study simulates several potential policy regimes, estimating support for hypothetical cases and the actual child support caseload. The findings suggest that different regimes can result in vastly different amounts due and no system is ideal. The most feasible approach maybe to set support for each child at a given percentage of a nonresident parent's income. (author abstract)
In this article, we examine the existence of, and trends in, informal support for resident mothers who were in the first cohort of TANF participants in Wisconsin. These issues are of particular importance to economically disadvantaged mothers in that informal support may be both quite likely (because of TANF rules) and very important (because of their economic vulnerability). We hypothesized that fathers would be less likely to provide informal contributions over time and that this decline would be especially strong when mothers have children with new partners. In addition to being less likely to provide support, we expected that fathers whose ex-partners have new children may change the type of support they provide, away from general untargeted support (e.g., money toward rent) and toward child-specific support (e.g., gifts or clothes). We used statistical methods to account for unobserved differences between mothers who did and did not go on to have children with new partners. (author abstract)
Federal laws and regulations establish a framework which guides the design and administration of child support programs for low-income individuals. Click the first link below to view legislative resources specific to child support programs. Click the second link to browse additional self-sufficiency legislation and policy in the SSRC library.