University of Wisconsin–Madison

Child Support Policy Research Agreement, September 2003–December 2005

Under the 2003–05 research agreement between IRP and the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development, there are eight primary projects. Reports will be posted upon completion.

1. Collection of Court Record Data (CRD)

Since 1984, IRP has sponsored the collection of court record and child support payment information from a sample of paternity and divorce cases involving minor children from 21 Wisconsin counties. These data provide information on child placement orders, use of the child support guidelines, and deviations from the guidelines. Such information is not consistently recorded in the state’s KIDS database, nor is it available in any other administrative data. The current project involves updating information on over 1,000 divorce and paternity cases in an earlier sample from 2001 and the collection of data concerning a new sample from 2003, containing both adjudicated and voluntary paternity cases and divorce cases from court records in the sample counties.

2. A Survey of Parents’ Living Arrangements

Shared-placement living arrangements are becoming more common in Wisconsin divorce cases, constituting nearly 25 percent of physical placements in 1997–98. Research from a California study in the 1980s had suggested that shared-placement living arrangements might become, over time, more like mother sole-placement arrangements. An IRP parent survey conducted in 2001 had, however, suggested that there was considerable stability in such arrangements and that fathers in these arrangements were considerably more involved with their children than were fathers where the mother had sole custody (see IRP Special Report 83). A 2004 survey, the fifth in a series conducted by IRP, is expected to provide valuable information on the viability of shared-time placement over longer periods of time, and on the effect of such arrangements on the payment of child support. Together, the fourth and fifth surveys will provide a large enough sample, over a long enough time, to assess how shared custody placements affect contact with children and the provision of child support in both divorce and paternity cases.

Related Studies: M. L. Krecker, P. Brown, M. S. Melli, and L. Wimer, Children’s Living Arrangements in Divorced Wisconsin Families with Shared Placement (Special Report 83), June 2003.

Patricia R. Brown, The Father-Child Relationship in Voluntary Paternity Acknowledgment Cases. Report to the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development, Bureau of Child Support. Institute for Research on Poverty, University of Wisconsin–Madison, February 2006.

Patricia Brown, Eun Hee Joung, and Lawrence M. Berger, Divorced Wisconsin Families with Shared Child Placements. Report to the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development, Bureau of Child Support. Institute for Research on Poverty, University of Wisconsin–Madison, February 2006.

3. Who Gets What Placement?

National and state placement policies have changed in recent years, no longer invariably favoring the placement of children with their mothers. This research, using IRP’s court record data, is documenting changes in the proportion of cases that result in sole placement with the mother or the father, and in variations of split or shared placement decisions. In May 2000, state policy was again revised to encourage arrangements maximizing the amount of time children spend with both parents. IRP is assessing the extent to which policy changes may have affected placement arrangements.

Related Studies: Steven T.Cook and Patricia Brown. Recent Trends in Children’s Placement Arrangements in Divorce and Paternity Cases in Wisconsin. Report to the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development, Bureau of Child Support. Institute for Research on Poverty, University of Wisconsin–Madison, May 2006.

Maria Cancian, Judith Cassetty, Steven T. Cook, and Daniel R. Meyer. Placement Outcomes for Children of Divorce in Wisconsin, January 2002.

4. A Review of the Wisconsin Child Support Guidelines

This project has three parts. The first part is a new review of the literature and research on the costs of raising children. This update on earlier research is looking at theoretical issues in the allocation of estimates of family expenditures, using new research and newly available national data on parents’ expected contributions to college costs, and how these vary by family income. As part of this review IRP is also exploring the implications for Wisconsin’s child support guidelines and for proposed changes in those guidelines. In the second part of the project, IRP is examining courts’ compliance with the Wisconsin percentage-of-income guidelines, establishing a baseline of current practice in preparation for possible future rule changes. In the last part of the project, IRP is examining the extent to which child care costs may have affected the amount of child care ordered by the courts, as part of a continuing review of the factors that enter into the courts’ use of state guidelines.

Related Studies: Emma Caspar, Ingrid Rothe, and Anat Yom-Tov. The Use of Wisconsin’s Child Support Guidelines: Evidence from 2000 through 2003. Report to the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development, Bureau of Child Support. Institute for Research on Poverty, University of Wisconsin–Madison, July 2006.

Steven T. Cook. Use of Wisconsin’s Child Support Guidelines in Shared Placement Cases, August 2002.

Ingrid E. Rothe, Mei-Chen Hu, and Lynn Wimer. “Use of Wisconsin’s Child Support Guidelines in Paternity and Serial Obligor Cases.” Report to the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development, Bureau of Child Support. Institute for Research on Poverty, University of Wisconsin–Madison, 2000.

Ingrid E. Rothe, and Mei-Chen Hu. 2001. “Use of Wisconsin’s Child Support Guidelines: A Preliminary Report.” Report to the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development, Bureau of Child Support. Institute for Research on Poverty, University of Wisconsin–Madison, 2001.

Ingrid Rothe, Judith Cassetty, and Elisabeth Boehnen, Estimates of Family Expenditures for Children: A Review of the Literature. Report to the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development, Bureau of Child Support. Institute for Research on Poverty, University of Wisconsin–Madison, 2001.

5. Child Support Orders and Payments

This research is seeking answers to a series of questions regarding the relationship between the size of the support order and the likelihood and amount of payments: Will orders that are set too high discourage compliance? Do lower support orders lead to better compliance by noncustodial parents? Do they result in lower total amounts of support paid? An earlier report (see below) considered only parents with one order over a one-year period. The new work examines three-year outcomes, and also examines parents who have payment orders for more than one family (serial obligors).

Related Studies: M-C. Hu and D. Meyer, Child Support Orders and Payments: Do Lower Orders Result in Higher Payments? March 2003.

6. Forgiveness of Arrears

This project examined arrears forgiveness programs currently operating in Wisconsin counties and is now implementing and evaluating a random-assignment experiment to evaluate an arrears forgiveness project in Racine County.

Related Studies: Judi Bartfeld, Forgiveness of State-Owed Child Support Arrears (Special Report 84), February 2003.

7. Child Support and Economic Well-Being in Low-Income Families

There are two components to this project. First, IRP researchers are using administrative data from Wisconsin to address two basic questions: What portion of the incomes of single mothers in Wisconsin comes from child support? How regular is that support? This work extends analyses completed under a previous contract by considering all Wisconsin families, not just those receiving cash welfare or with incomes below poverty, and by including an analysis of the regularity as well as the level of payments. The second part of the analysis uses data from three waves of the National Survey of America’s Families to assess the contribution of child support to the incomes of single parents, comparing outcomes in Wisconsin and other states over time.

Related Studies: Maria Cancian, Daniel R. Meyer, and Hwa-Ok Park, The Importance of Child Support for Low-Income Families, September 2003.

8. Child Support Orders for Health Care

The federal government is strongly promoting increased use and enforcement of medical support orders. But what proportion of low-income noncustodial parents have access to affordable health insurance from which their children might benefit? To provide data that might help answer this question, IRP is exploring the feasibility of adding new elements to the Wisconsin Family Health Survey that would seek information regarding such matters as insurance costs and child support orders.

Related Studies: Thomas Kaplan and Ingrid Rothe, Medical Support Orders: Potential Fiscal Effects of Matching Wisconsin Insurance and Child Support Data, January 2003.