University of Wisconsin–Madison

Child Support Policy Research Agreement, September 2009–December 2011

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. Milwaukee Prison Project Impact Evaluation

During the period of this agreement, researchers will build on previous analyses to complete the evaluation of the Milwaukee Prison Project, which seeks to reduce the child support obligations of noncustodial parents during their incarceration. The evaluation is based on a comparison of outcomes for two cohorts of incarcerated noncustodial fathers, an early cohort of cases (who left the incarceration system before the policy of holding orders open was implemented), and a later cohort (who were potentially exposed to the new policy).

In this project, researchers will update their analysis comparing post-incarceration payment patterns, distinguishing patterns for those whose orders were and were not held open, through 2010; compare post-incarceration payment patterns of Milwaukee fathers who were incarcerated in the periods immediately before and after the policy change; and compare the change in post-incarceration payment patterns in Milwaukee County and in comparison counties that did not change their policy at this time. Researchers expect that this difference-in-difference strategy should improve their ability to identify the effects of the policy change.

Report: Jennifer L. Noyes, Maria Cancian, and Laura Cuesta, Holding Child Support Orders of Incarcerated Payers in Abeyance: Final Evaluation Report. Report to the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development, Bureau of Child Support, Institute for Research on Poverty, University of Wisconsin–Madison, September 2012. [PowerPoint Presentation]

2. Families Forward Debt Reduction Program Final Evaluation Report

The Wisconsin Bureau of Child Support, the Racine County Child Support Department, and the Institute for Research on Poverty implemented a child support debt reduction demonstration program, Families Forward, in Racine County. The program aimed to reduce child support debt (arrears owed by noncustodial parents) while increasing child support payments.

The Families Forward Program allowed for the forgiveness of child support debt owed to the custodial parent (CP) and/or the state and the suspension of interest charges on debt, under the stipulation that the noncustodial parent (NCP) make child support payments as ordered by the court. With the CP’s consent, an NCP’s debt was reduced by an additional 50 cents for every dollar of current support paid by the NCP.  If the NCP also had state-owed arrears (or only state-owed arrears), the state forgave 50 cents for every dollar of current support paid by the NCP.

In this, the final report for the Families Forward project, researchers will update previous preliminary reports (see 2007–2009 and 2005–2007 projects) with a re-estimation of program impacts with six additional quarters of data, and synthesize the results of all analyses. The report also reviews findings from a survey of NCPs IRP conducted to explore NCP’s experiences with the program. Survey information from 97 NCPs (63 who were in the experimental group), will be linked to the administrative data to enrich the analysis of NCPs’ experiences with the Families Forward Program.

Report: Carolyn Heinrich, Brett Burkhardt, Hilary Shager, and Lara Rosen, The Families Forward Program Final Evaluation Report. Report to the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development, Bureau of Child Support, Institute for Research on Poverty, University of Wisconsin–Madison, January 2011. [PowerPoint Presentation]

Related Publication: Heinrich, C.J., Burkhardt, B. C., and Shager, H.M. (2011). Reducing Child Support Debt and Its Consequences: Can Forgiveness Benefit All? Journal of Public Analysis and Management, 30(4), 755–774.

3. Court Records Data Collection

IRP will collect one new cohort of paternity and divorce cases (Cohort 27), 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 2006 through June 2007.

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. Compliance with the Guidelines, with a Focus on Shared Placement Guidelines

This project will include two related reports using Court Record Data from Cohorts 17 to 27. The first report will document changes in the frequency of different placement arrangements, and the characteristics (especially work and earnings) of couples with different arrangements. The report will quantify the growth in shared placement and document the extent to which changes depend on the definition of shared placement.

The second report will document the use of the guidelines with particular attention to differential use of the guidelines in different types of placement situations, and evidence of deviations from the guidelines associated with child care, health care, or other expenses. The report will include estimates of the extent to which any apparent declines in the use of guidelines may be due to more complex orders associated with shifts over time in the frequency of shared placement or adjustments due to child care or health care expenses, rather than declines in the use of the guidelines for a given type of case.

Report: Patricia Brown and Steven T. Cook, 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, November 2012. [PowerPoint Presentation]

Report: Steven T. Cook and Patricia Brown, The Use of Child Support Guidelines in Wisconsin: 1996 to 2007. Report to the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development, Bureau of Child Support, Institute for Research on Poverty, University of Wisconsin–Madison, December 2013. [PowerPoint Presentation]

5. Alternative Measures of Income and Implications for Assessing the Use of the Guidelines

Much of IRP’s research on child support outcomes has used earnings from UI Wage Data records to estimate the income of parents in child support cases. A key use of these estimates has been in determining whether child support orders are consistent with the guidelines. These estimates have also been used to determine parents’ earnings and employment as outcomes, as explanatory covariates, and in determinations of child support payment compliances.

In this project, IRP will compare 2000–2005 UI earnings records and DOR tax records for a population of parents associated with child support cases. Researchers will determine how parents’ UI earnings compare with measures of total earnings and total taxable income (earned and unearned) derived from tax records. Comparisons will be made for individuals of different income levels, and different child support case characteristics. This report is intended to be an internal document designed to inform other analysis of compliance with the guidelines.

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

6. Income Shares Model and the Perception of “Fairness”

This task will review trends in the adoption of the income shares model by other states. Based on a review of available documentation as well as interviews with child support officials, the report will address when and why states have considered and adopted or not adopted the income shares model. It will also report on perceptions of the response to the adoption of the income shares model, including implementation issues and perceptions of the reactions of resident and nonresident parents. The report will also include an analysis of the effect of the adoption of an income shares model in Wisconsin, updating previous estimates to account for recent changes in the guidelines for high-income payers.

Report: Jennifer L. Noyes, Child Support Models and the Perception of “Fairness”. 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]

7. The Use of Contempt and Criminal Non-Support as Enforcement Tools

This project is two-fold. First, it will examine the extent to which incarceration for criminal non-support or contempt occurs, through an analysis of administrative data available through the Department of Corrections and Milwaukee County. Second, it will analyze the extent to which incarceration for criminal non-support or contempt occurs as a result of primary enforcement efforts rather than as a secondary consequence resulting from other potentially criminal activity, based on available documentation related to the establishment of bench warrants as well as interviews with law enforcement and child support officials.

Report: Steven Cook and Jennifer L. Noyes, The Use of Civil Contempt and Criminal Nonsupport as Child Support Enforcement Tools: A Report on Local Perspectives and the Availability of Data. Report to the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development, Bureau of Child Support, Institute for Research on Poverty, University of Wisconsin–Madison, May 2011.

Report: Steven T. Cook, Child Support Enforcement Use of Contempt and Criminal Nonsupport Charges in Wisconsin. Report to the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development, Bureau of Child Support, Institute for Research on Poverty, University of Wisconsin–Madison, December 2012, revised September 2015.

8. Impacts of the Economic Downturn on Child Support

Part A. Interviews with County Agency and Court Staff

This task will assess whether and, if so, how child support and court staff adjust existing orders when obligors lose their jobs or experience reductions in earnings. The task will also assess how child support and court staff set original orders when the obligor is unemployed, and whether child support agencies and courts have changed their practices on these questions since the severe economic downturn began.

Report: Thomas Kaplan, Child Support in a Recession: A Report on Interviews with Child Support Staff and Court Commissioners in Five Counties. Report to the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development, Bureau of Child Support, Institute for Research on Poverty, University of Wisconsin–Madison, June 2010. [PowerPoint Presentation]

Part B: Changes in Earnings, Child Support Orders, and Payments

This task will analyze changes in earnings among nonresident fathers, and how these relate to changes in child support orders and payments. Building on the results of Part A, researchers will examine whether and how child support orders and payments have changed in response to earnings declines associated with the recent economic downturn. The analysis will consider earnings, child support orders, and payments for cases in which the father owes support for at least one child age 14 or younger in 2006. The analysis will consider changes in earnings and child support orders and payments in 2007–2009.

Report: Chi-Fang Wu, Child Support in an Economic Downturn: Changes in Earnings, Child Support Orders, and Payments. Report to the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development, Bureau of Child Support, Institute for Research on Poverty, University of Wisconsin–Madison, January 2011. [PowerPoint Presentation]

9. Cost of Raising Children, with a Focus on Medical Support Costs

In reports prepared as part of previous research agreements with the Bureau of Child Support, researchers have analyzed estimates of the costs involved in raising children in order to inform the establishment of reasonable child support order guidelines. Previous work on this topic has included a review of conceptual models for determining the costs of children, an extensive review of the literature regarding estimates of expenditures for children, an analysis of the implications of changing demographics and family arrangements, and the valuation of parental time invested in child rearing. However, to date, no report has provided a detailed examination of the implications of health care costs for child support policy, though medical expenditures are consuming an ever greater share of household budgets. This task updates previous reports on the costs of children and supplements their analyses with an emphasis on medical support costs.

Report: Maximilian D. Schmeiser and Gina M. Longo, Updating Estimates of the Costs of Raising Children with a Focus on Medical Support Costs. Report to the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development, Bureau of Child Support, Institute for Research on Poverty, University of Wisconsin–Madison, December 2010. [PowerPoint Presentation]

10. Multiple-Partner Fertility, Informal and Formal Child Support

Many noncustodial parents provide informal and formal child support to their children, but informal arrangements may break down over time, especially as parents form new relationships. Little is known about trends in informal support, nor how informal support changes when parents have children with new partners. Understanding the relationship among multiple-partner fertility, formal support, and informal support are important because about 40 percent of children are born to unmarried parents, and previous research suggests that most children born to unmarried parents will have at least one parent who has children with another partner. If multiple-partner fertility leads to declines in both informal and formal support, this raises the importance of accounting for multiple-partner fertility in the design of child support guidelines.

This project addresses three questions: What is the level of informal support (both in-kind support and cash support outside the formal child support system)? Does the level or type of support change when mothers or fathers have children with new partners? What is the relationship between formal and informal support?

Report: Maria Cancian and Daniel R. Meyer, “I’m Not Supporting His Kids”: Noncustodial Fathers’ Contributions When Mothers Have Children with New Partners. Report to the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development, Bureau of Child Support, Institute for Research on Poverty, University of Wisconsin–Madison, April 2010. [PowerPoint Presentation]

Related Publication: Meyer, D.R., & Cancian, M. (2012). “I’m not supporting his kids”: Nonresident fathers’ contributions given mothers’ new fertility. Journal of Marriage and Family, 74(1), 132–151.

11. Child Support and Nonmarital Fertility

There is broad concern about increases in relationship instability and the related growth in complex families. There is growing interest in the potential effect of child support, and how child support might change incentives to form new marital or nonmarital relationships. This report uses information on a large group of mothers who were randomly assigned to receive different proportions of the child support paid on behalf of their children, to analyze the effect of child support receipt on subsequent nonmarital fertility with new partners (multiple-partner fertility).

It has been difficult to determine the causal effect of child support on family formation because custodial parents who receive child support may differ in other ways from those who do not, and these differences, rather than the child support itself, may explain differences in subsequent outcomes. Administrative data on approximately 16,000 mothers will be used to measure the effects of child support receipt on subsequent partnerships that result in nonmarital births. This report will consider whether child support plays a role in reducing economic stress, and related partnerships, and thereby reducing family complexity and increasing stability for children.

Report: Yeongmin Kim, Maria Cancian, and Daniel R. Meyer. Child Support and Subsequent Nonmarital Fertility. Report to the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development, Bureau of Child Support, Institute for Research on Poverty, University of Wisconsin–Madison, July 2011.

Related Publication: Kim, Y., Cancian, M., & Meyer, D.R. (2017). Child support and subsequent nonmarital fertility with a new partner. Journal of Family Issues, 38(2), 151–76.

12. Contributions of Child Support to the Income Packages of Divorced Families

The negative impacts of divorce on mothers and children are well documented. However, there is little information on how this has changed in recent years, nor on the role of various sources of income in contributing to post-divorce economic well-being. Unlike much of the other work on the role of child support in mothers’ income packages, this report will not focus specifically on low-income women but will look more broadly at the range of women affected by divorce—a group where child support potentially plays a more important role than in targeted low-income, welfare, and/or nonmarital samples.

This report will focus on the economic well-being of divorcing mothers in Wisconsin, focusing on several years following the initiation of divorce proceedings, and comparing across recent cohorts.  Particular emphasis will be on the role of child support and food stamps as income sources, and on differences among mothers with varying placement arrangements.

Report: Judi Bartfeld, Hong-Min Ahn, and Jeong Hee Ryu, Economic Well-Being of Divorced Mothers with Varying Child Placement Arrangements in Wisconsin: Contributions of Child Support and Other Income Sources. Report to the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development, Bureau of Child Support, Institute for Research on Poverty, University of Wisconsin–Madison, April 2012.

Part A: Child Support Referral for Families Served by the Child Welfare System

Parents whose children have been removed from their custody may be ordered to pay child support. However, there are concerns that requiring child support, and thereby reducing the economic resources available to biological parents, may lengthen the time their children spend in foster care. This report will provide information on the range of potential benefits and costs of referral to child support by considering the frequency and consequences of referrals to child support. Child support compliance rates and the relationship between orders, payments, and reunification will also be investigated.

Report: Maria Cancian, Steven Cook, Mai Seki, and Lynn Wimer, Interactions of the Child Support and Child Welfare Systems: Child Support Referral for Families Served by the Child Welfare System, Final Report. Report to the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development, Bureau of Child Support, Institute for Research on Poverty, University of Wisconsin–Madison, May 2012.

Part B: Role of Child Support in Reducing the Risk of Child Welfare Services Involvement

Families with very limited economic resources are at a higher risk of child welfare services involvement. Child support is an important income source for many economically vulnerable families. This report builds on and extends a feasibility study to be completed as part of the previous research agreement, focusing on child support as a “protective factor.” Because families with limited economic resources are more likely to become involved with the child welfare system, income from child support might be expected to reduce child welfare services involvement.

This project will analyze the extent to which a cohort of nonmarital children born in 2004 comes into contact with either or both the child support and child welfare systems. In particular, researchers will document the relationship between child support orders and payments and subsequent child welfare services involvement.

Report: This report is currently being revised. Please contact Maria Cancian for further information.

Related Publication: Cancian, M., Cook, S. T., Seki, M., & Wimer, L. (2017). Making parents pay: The unintended consequences of charging parents for foster careChildren and Youth Services Review, 72, 100–110.