University of Wisconsin–Madison

Child Support Policy Research Agreement Extension, January 2011–December 2012

This research agreement between IRP and the Wisconsin Department of Children and Families (Daniel R. Meyer and Maria Cancian, Co-Principal Investigators) supports data collection and research related to the child support system. The primary projects and summary descriptions appear below. Related publications and reports will be posted upon completion.

1. Interactions of Refugees with the Child Support Enforcement System

Researchers will undertake a descriptive analysis of the refugee populations identified in the CARES data system, and their involvement in the child support system. Different refugee populations may interact with the child support system in different ways. This variation may be due to differences in socioeconomic status, language, or differences in family structure or beliefs about the definition of family. Researchers will analyze patterns of paternity establishment, child support orders and payments, and conduct a preliminary investigation of income and benefits.

There is virtually no research on recent refugees in Wisconsin, their economic status, or their interaction with the child support system. Coming from very different cultural backgrounds (Africa, Europe, Latin America, and Southeast Asia), there may be differences in the levels and types of interaction with the public assistance and child support programs. The report presenting the results of this analysis will help policymakers assess whether programs and policies should be adjusted in order to better serve refugees.

Report: Patricia R. Brown and Steven T. Cook, Refugees and the Wisconsin Child Support Enforcement System. Report to the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development, Bureau of Child Support, Institute for Research on Poverty, University of Wisconsin–Madison, December 2012. [PowerPoint Presentation]

2. Child Support Arrears Accumulation

Child support arrears are recognized as a major policy problem for families and for the child support enforcement system. When child support is not paid and arrears accumulate, resident parent families are not receiving reliable support and nonresident parents are accumulating debt subject to significant interest charges and other enforcement actions. In addition, addressing arrears requires significant child support enforcement resources, and low payment rates on arrears have significant implications for meeting performance standards.

While the importance of arrears is well recognized in Wisconsin and nationally, relatively little is known about the factors associated with the accumulation of arrears. Most of the past analysis has considered the status of child support cases at a single point in time, often comparing the characteristics of nonresident parents who have accumulated modest and more substantial debts. In contrast, using longitudinal data from Wisconsin administrative records, for this analysis we will follow a set of nonresident parents with child support orders over time. We will document patterns of arrears accumulation, and aim to identify factors associated with the growth of arrears. In particular, building on previous research, we will examine the extent to which noncustodial parents have no formal earnings, changes in employers, appear to be out-of-state or incarcerated, or to have orders that are a higher percentage of income than generally called for by the guidelines. We will also examine factors associated with declines in arrears.

Note: This project replaces another project on reduction of child support debt in Wisconsin.

Report: Yeongmin Kim, Maria Cancian, and Daniel R. Meyer. Child Support Debt: Tracing the Evolution of the Problem and Implications for Policy Solutions. Report to the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development, Bureau of Child Support, Institute for Research on Poverty, University of Wisconsin–Madison, November 2012.

Related Publication: Kim, Y., Cancian, M., & Meyer, D.R. (2015). Patterns of child support debt accumulation. Children and Youth Services Review, 51, 87–94.

3. Court Record Data Collection

IRP will collect one new cohort of paternity and divorce cases (Cohort 28), consisting of a random selection of cases petitioning for paternity establishment, the setting of child support or child placement in voluntary acknowledgment paternity cases, and divorce cases in the period from July 2007 through June 2008.

Through visits to counties, court record history data not currently recorded in the KIDS data system will be collected. The collected data will include information on legal custody and physical placement, visitation, and details concerning the specific provisions of each order. Other information collected will include records of deviations from the use of the guidelines and information on returns to court for purposes relating to child placement, child support orders, revision or enforcement of child support, or referral for criminal proceedings for the nonpayment of child support. IRP will also include the detail of information collected about serial family child support obligations that parents have from prior orders in other cases.

Product: Memo provided to the Wisconsin Department of Children and Families.

4. Impact Evaluation of the Collaborative Strategies Project

The Collaborative Strategies Project (CSP) was designed to improve the economic well-being of low-income children and their families by increasing their access to accurate and complete information about child support policy and the interaction of the child support and TANF systems. The CSP included outreach and training efforts designed to improve information and program access for low-income families applying for TANF. In particular, the CSP included the development of outreach materials and joint training of TANF and CSE workers focused on specific changes in policies related to changes in the assignment and pass-through of child support to former and current TANF participants.

This project will analyze the child support and other program participation outcomes of families who applied for TANF after CSP implementation, comparing outcomes with those who applied before CSP implementation. The analysis will provide information on the relationship between child support history and TANF application outcomes, as well as whether and how this relationship changed after the implementation of the policy changes and CSP outreach and training efforts. The analysis will also document the role of child support in the income packages of TANF applicants after application, providing estimates of the consequences of recent changes in pass-through and assignment policies for family economic well-being.

Report: Rebekah Selekman, Maria Cancian, and Jennifer Noyes. Enhancing the Child Support Knowledge of TANF-Eligible Families and TANF Caseworkers: A Collaborative Strategy for Improving Outcomes for Low-Income Children and Their Families – Outcomes Evaluation. Report to the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development, Bureau of Child Support, Institute for Research on Poverty, University of Wisconsin–Madison, October 2012.

5. Child Support Enforcement after Family Reunification

Researchers will analyze the frequency with which child support is ordered and collected from custodial parents whose children have been reunified after an out-of-home placement (OHP), and whether this is related to the stability of reunification. Researchers will also analyze child support orders designed to reimburse OHP costs, building on an analysis of the frequency with which CS is ordered and collected from previously-custodial parents during the time their children are in an OHP, and whether child support ordered and collected is related to time to reunification.

Parents whose children have been removed from their custody may be ordered to pay child support, and outstanding amounts due may be collected even after the children have been reunified. However, there are concerns that requiring child support, and thereby reducing the economic resources available to biological parents, may increase economic stress and the risk of instability in the reunification. This report will provide information on the extent to which child support orders are enforced and child support collected, and how this is related to the stability of reunifications.

Report: Maria Cancian, Steven Cook, Mai Seki, and Lynn Wimer, Interactions of the Child Support and Child Welfare Systems: Child Support Enforcement after Family Reunification. Report to the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development, Bureau of Child Support, Institute for Research on Poverty, University of Wisconsin–Madison, May 2012.

6. Referrals to Child Support from CPS (WiSACWIS/KIDS interface)

Child welfare caseworkers initiating an Out-of-Home Placement (OHP) currently respond to a single question in the child welfare information system (WiSACWIS) regarding whether pursuing child support is in the best interests of the child. If child support is designated as in the child’s best interest, the WiSACWIS/KIDS interface refers the case to the CSE agency, which generally results in CSE actions for both parents. There appears to be a lack of shared understanding across counties and systems regarding policy on the appropriateness of referrals, especially with regard to temporarily non-custodial (formerly custodial) parents. A WiSACWIS/KIDS systems change being implemented in February 2011 will allow child welfare caseworkers to designate separately whether pursuit of child support from the mother, and/or from the father, is in the best interests of the child. This change creates an opportunity for collaboration between the child support and child welfare systems at the state and county levels to develop and articulate policy regarding appropriate referrals, and to provide training to both child welfare and child support agency personnel.

Research projects included in prior agreements have begun to document the relationship between child support enforcement and child welfare outcomes. These projects have documented lower levels of child welfare involvement among families receiving more substantial child support amounts, and have assessed the relationship between child support orders to cover the costs of OHP and time to reunification and stability of reunification. Building on these results, this project will include review of current policy, technical assistance based on prior related research, and a process evaluation of the collaborative process, focusing on implications for future initiatives. This project will document Wisconsin’s efforts to improve policy on appropriate referrals, and discuss lessons for further policy development both in Wisconsin and nationally.

Report: Carol Chellew, Jennifer L. Noyes, and Rebekah Selekman, Child Support Referrals for Out-of-Home Placements: A Review of Policy and Practice. Report to the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development, Bureau of Child Support, Institute for Research on Poverty, University of Wisconsin–Madison, October 2012.

7. Guideline Analysis

IRP has completed several reports designed to directly inform the upcoming federally-required review of the child support guidelines by the Bureau of Child Support (BCS). In this project, IRP will assist BCS in a variety of analyses of the current guidelines and potential changes to the guidelines in support of the guideline review. In the past, the guidelines review has sometimes led to policy changes in the guidelines and sometimes to a reaffirmation of the guidelines that were already in place.

Report: Daniel R. Meyer and Emily Warren, Child Support Orders and the Incarceration of Noncustodial Parents. Report to the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development, Bureau of Child Support, Institute for Research on Poverty, University of Wisconsin–Madison, December 2011. [PowerPoint Presentation]

8. Child Support and Equality

Historically, child support policy has been influenced by a perception that noncustodial fathers have more resources than custodial-mother families. However, families with resident children typically have access to the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) and a variety of other supports, whereas those without resident children have access to fewer supports. For some families child support may thus exacerbate inequality, taking resources from someone with less income and giving it to a family unit that is already better off. While there are a variety of policy arguments for different levels of child support in these situations, these arguments are generally made without reference to data. This analysis begins to fill this gap.

Policymakers and advocates have increasingly noted the potential for the child support enforcement system to have counterproductive impacts on disadvantaged fathers. On the other hand, disadvantaged fathers often owe support to disadvantaged mothers, making it difficult to design a system that is both equitable and provides adequate support. This analysis will provide important empirical evidence on the extent of the problem by quantifying how often child support increases or reduces inequality and poverty for both custodial and noncustodial parents.

Report: Yoonsook Ha, Maria Cancian and Daniel R. Meyer. Child Support and Income Equality. Report to the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development, Bureau of Child Support, Institute for Research on Poverty, University of Wisconsin–Madison, September 2012.

Related Publication: Ha, Y., Cancian, M., & Meyer, D.R. (2018). Child support and income inequality. Poverty & Public Policy, 10(2):147–58.

9. Does the Growth in Placement with Fathers Explain the Declining Share of Single Parents with a Child Support Order?

National reports based on the Current Population Survey (CPS) show that the share of custodial parents who have a child support order has declined significantly in recent years. This has raised questions about the role of changes in the characteristics and living arrangements of families relative to other changes in the reach of the child support enforcement program. This project will examine the role of increases in fathers’ participation in their children’s care in explaining this trend.

Researchers will estimate the relative importance of changes in custody, and changes in the relative earnings of mothers and fathers, as well as other more commonly measured changes, including the growing proportion on nonmarital births on overall trends in the proportion of single-parent families with a child support order. Understanding the relative importance of policy and demographic factors in explaining changes in the effectiveness of the child support system is key to understanding the extent to which the decline in orders is problematic. The results will also help support estimates of likely future trends in rates of child support orders given continued changes in physical placement.

Report: Daniel R. Meyer, Maria Cancian, Eunhee Han, Patricia Brown, Steve Cook and Yiyu Chen. Full-Time Father or “Deadbeat Dad”? Does the Growth in Father Placement Explain the Declining Share of Divorced Custodial Parents with a Child Support Order? Report to the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development, Bureau of Child Support, Institute for Research on Poverty, University of Wisconsin–Madison, October 2012.

Report: Maria Cancian, Yiyu Chen, Eunhee Han, and Daniel R. Meyer. Exploring Reasons for the Decline in Child Support Orders among Paternity Cases. Report to the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development, Bureau of Child Support, Institute for Research on Poverty, University of Wisconsin–Madison, October 2012.

Related Publication: Meyer, D.R., Cancian, M., & Chen, Y. (2015). Why are child support orders becoming less likely after divorce? Social Service Review, 89(2): 301–334.

10. Pilot Survey of Formal and Informal Support of Children in Complex Families

Research supported by recent research agreements between BCS and IRP suggests (1) most children born to unmarried parents will live in complex families—where one or both parents have children with other partners; (2) many nonresident fathers contribute informal as well as formal support to their children; (3) levels of formal and informal support are related to whether parents have other partners. Our understanding of family resources, and the role of formal and informal child support, is nonetheless limited by the lack of information about the full range of sources of support and obligation for complex families. This project will develop and test a survey on income sources for complex families, and collect pilot data for a small sample of complex families.

Child support and a range of other public policies aim to encourage parental responsibility and assure that children are provided with adequate resources. Research and policy analysis evaluating the success of these policies generally rely on administrative data, or surveys that have limited, if any, information on transfers between (legally) unrelated individuals. Especially given the frequency of complex families, it is important to assess the extent to which researchers are missing important information on available resources.

Report: Lawrence Berger, Maria Cancian, Daniel R. Meyer, Nora Cate Schaeffer, and Jessica Price. The Wisconsin Mothers with Young Children Study (WiscMoms): Report on a Pilot Survey of Formal and Informal Support of Children in Complex Families. Report to the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development, Bureau of Child Support, Institute for Research on Poverty, University of Wisconsin–Madison, October 2012.

11. The Role of Child Support in the Current Economic Safety Net for Low-income Families with Children

This project examines the combinations of child support and other sources of income in the income package of low-income families. In addition to child support, the income sources include TANF, SNAP, child care subsidies, housing assistance, Medicaid, and earnings. Researchers will consider the role of child support in the incomes of single mother families, documenting the proportion receiving any child support, and the proportion of income from child support for families at various income levels.

This report will inform policy makers regarding the importance of child support in the income packages of single parent families, and will compare the results from previous analysis of Wisconsin administrative data with national estimates. A cluster analysis will provide new information on the most common patterns of income packages and the number and characteristics of individuals who are “disconnected” from most benefit programs. This information may inform policy discussions regarding cross-program collaboration and the potential need for additional program outreach.

Report: Kristen S. Slack, Lawrence M. Berger, Bomi Kim, Mi Youn Yang, The Role of Child Support in the Current Economic Safety Net for Low-Income Families with Children. Report to the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development, Bureau of Child Support, Institute for Research on Poverty, University of Wisconsin–Madison, May 2012. [PowerPoint Presentation]

Related Publication: Slack, K. S., Kim, B., Yang, M. Y., & Berger, L. M. (2014). The economic safety net for low-income families with childrenChildren and Youth Services Review, 46, 213–219.

12. Fathers’ Investments of Time and Money across Residential Contexts

The past four decades have witnessed a dramatic change in the nature of fathers’ involvement with children, as fathering has moved beyond “breadwinning” (i.e., providing economic support) to include spending time in direct caregiving and interaction, as well as sharing responsibility for coordinating children’s care. Less well understood is how various dimensions of fathering are related, particularly across different residential contexts. For married and cohabiting men, paternal investments occur naturally within households as part of what some scholars have called the ”package deal.” By contrast, nonresident fathers face both barriers and disincentives to their paternal investments of time and money.

In this project, researchers will use data from the Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing Study to examine how fathers’ economic capacities and contributions are linked to their direct time involvement (amount of time, engaging in activities, and sharing responsibility for childrearing tasks) for both resident and nonresident fathers. This analysis will contribute to our understanding of how dimensions of fathering are linked, which has implications both for the efficacy of child support enforcement policies, and for efforts to promote nonresident fathers’ involvement with children.

Report: Marcia J. Carlson, Alicia G. VanOrman, and Kimberly J. Turner, Fathers’ Investments of Time and Money across Residential Contexts. Report to the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development, Bureau of Child Support, Institute for Research on Poverty, University of Wisconsin–Madison, May 2012. [PowerPoint Presentation]

Related Publication: Carlson, M. J., & Berger, L. M. (2013). What kids get from parents: Packages of parental involvement across complex family formsSocial Service Review, 87(2), 213–249.

13. Shared Placement: A Synthesis of the Literature

Shared placement has become increasingly normative in divorce cases. States have taken a variety of policy steps to encourage shared placement, and some data—particularly from Wisconsin—has documented substantial shifts over time in placement outcomes. Furthermore, both theory and research suggest that there are important economic implications of placement arrangements, as such arrangements affect both time available to parents, relative costs, and the flow of money between households in the form of child support transfers. And, theory and research suggest potential implications for child well-being associated with the choice of placement. However, there has been little effort to synthesize this emerging body of research. This project will provide policymakers with a coherent overview of what is currently known about patterns and outcomes of shared placement arrangements.

Report: Judi Bartfeld, Shared Placement: An Overview of Prevalence, Trends, Economic Implications, and Impacts on Child Well-Being. Report to the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development, Bureau of Child Support, Institute for Research on Poverty, University of Wisconsin–Madison, December 2011.