Child Support Policy Research Agreement, September 2007–December 2009

This research agreement between IRP and the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development (Maria Cancian and Thomas Kaplan, 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. Court Records Data Collection

IRP will collect two new cohorts of paternity and divorce cases (Cohorts 25 and 26), 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 2004 through June 2005 (Cohort 25), and July 2005 through June 2006 (Cohort 26).

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.

2. Families Forward Debt Reduction Program

This project continues analysis of the pilot debt reduction experiment that is currently underway in Racine County (see Sept. 2005 – Dec. 2007 projects). The analyses for this research will use administrative data, along with data from the follow-up surveys and focus groups.

IRP researchers are using administrative data to construct two key sets of measures of the impact of changes in child support debt and changes in child support payments. The project will also collect information from parents to inform understanding of individual responses to the program and of perceptions of program implementation.

Wisconsin is the first state to include custodial parent-owed arrears in a debt reduction project, and it is also conducting the experiment under rigorous experimental design standards. Researchers expect to identify heretofore unexamined impacts on child support payments and debt reduction and to examine other program effects on participants and their families, and to make recommendations for program development.

An expansion of the program and evaluation to another county may also be completed during the period of this agreement.

3. Effects of a Policy Change in Milwaukee County to Hold Incarcerated Payers’ Orders in Abeyance

During the period of this agreement, IRP researchers will complete two sets of analyses. The first, a qualitative analysis of the responses of custodial and noncustodial parents, will document individual responses to and perceptions of the policy adopted in Milwaukee County to suspend orders for support when a payer is incarcerated. The information will be analyzed in order to develop an understanding of issues surrounding the policy’s implementation and effects from the perspective of custodial and noncustodial parents. The analyses for the first part of this report will be based on interviews with formerly incarcerated fathers and the associated custodial parent with child support orders established in Milwaukee County.

The second analysis will draw on updated information on the first cohort of cases (that left the incarceration system before the policy of holding orders open was implemented), and initial results for those in the second cohort, who were exposed to the new policy. Researchers will use administrative data to track incarceration, child support outcomes, and pre- and post-incarceration earnings. This analysis will provide information on the effects of recent policy developments in Milwaukee County, and provide the basis for subsequent evaluation of the impact of holding orders in abeyance during incarceration.

4. Health Orders

In this project, researchers will document the operation and some effects of a newly automated health order data match and enforcement system that is expected for child support cases in which the children participate in Medicaid and for other child support cases. Researchers will compare medical support after the first interface match with medical support one year after policy implementation.

Wisconsin may be the first state in which a health agency will have clear statutory authority to share health insurance information with child support enforcement agencies and in which automated systems will enhance the ability of child support agencies to enforce medical support orders.

Report: Steven T. Cook and Thomas Kaplan, Improving Medical Support Order Enforcement in Wisconsin. Report to the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development, Bureau of Child Support, Institute for Research on Poverty, University of Wisconsin–Madison, September 2008. [PowerPoint Presentation]

5. Shared Physical Placement and the Post-Divorce Economic Well-Being of Mothers, Fathers, and Children in Divorce Cases

In this project, IRP will use the sample of divorce cases from Cohorts 24 and 25 (see project 1, above) to analyze the economic well-being of the parties involved in shared placement. The report will examine the effects of substantial changes that have occurred over the past decade in both policy and practice concerning child placement following divorce. The report will examine the economic impact of shared placement, and the resulting reduction in child support payments, particularly for low-income families.

6. Changes Over Time in Multiple Partner Fertility and Consequences for Child Support

In this research IRP researchers will evaluate changes in family complexity over time from the perspective of fathers, mothers, or children, and examine the implications of these changes for expected child support orders. The incidence and timing of multiple-partner fertility have implications for the child support enforcement system, and the level and stability of support obligations of noncustodial parents, the support due to custodial parents, as well as the potential benefits of and need for order modifications.

Related Publication: Maria Cancian, Daniel R. Meyer, and Steven T. Cook, Stepparents and half-siblings: Family complexity from a child’s perspective, Fast Focus No. 11-2011, Institute for Research on Poverty, University of Wisconsin–Madison, September 2011.

7. Factors Associated with Nonpayment of Child Support

This research will explore explanations for irregularity in child support payment. IRP will examine several potential explanations, including the extent to which noncustodial parents have no formal earnings, or changes in employers, appear to be out-of-state, or appear to have orders that are to be paid in periods other than monthly. Researchers will use administrative data to measure orders and payments, earnings, and incarceration. The understanding gained from this study of the conditions that are associated with nonpayment and irregular payment will inform further system development.

Report: Yoonsook Ha, Maria Cancian, Daniel R. Meyer, and Eunhee Han, Factors Associated with Nonpayment of Child Support. Report to the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development, Bureau of Child Support, Institute for Research on Poverty, University of Wisconsin–Madison, September 2008. [PowerPoint Presentation]

8. EITC Use in Shared Placement Cases

This report will examine how low-income working parents claim the tax benefits associated with children, particularly the EITC, given the physical placement arrangement as described in the court record. The primary data source for this report will be Cohorts 21, 23 and 24, which include detailed information on physical placement language of Final Divorce Judgment orders and agreements.

The EITC is an important potential source of income for low-income working families in Wisconsin. IRP will document whether Wisconsin families in the child support system appear to receive the appropriate EITCs, and whether the likelihood and amount of EITC receipt appears to be related to the way in which child support placements are structured.

9. Best Practices in the Use of Administrative Data to Analyze Changes in Child Support Orders

This project will include an intensive analysis of the administrative data system to establish best practices in the use of administrative data to analyze changes in child support orders. It will inform researchers on the reasons that orders end and the best ways to track orders and changes in orders, which is important to properly interpreting the results of research on child support order duration, noncustodial parents’ compliance with orders, and regularity of child support payments.