Child Support

About half of all American children will spend part of their childhood living in single-parent, mostly single-mother, households. Single-parent households with minor children are the most economically vulnerable families, and government has come to play a major role in the way society ensures their support.

Because of the intimate link of child support to poverty and welfare, researchers associated with IRP have played a primary role in data collection, research, and policy evaluation since the mid-1970s.

Child Support Publications by Topic

An effort to categorize child support publications by research topic is underway.

The Child Support Noncustodial Parent Employment Demonstration Evaluation (CSPED)

Child support is a critical financial resource for children living apart from one of their parents. Recent demographic and policy changes have made an effective child support system increasingly important. A successful system must both enable and enforce noncustodial parents' contributions and requires effective policies to encourage noncustodial employment. Despite policy innovations designed to improve enforcement, the amount of unpaid support is at record levels.

The National Child Support Noncustodial Parent Employment Demonstration (CSPED), launched in October 2012, is designed to identify effective policy alternatives to increase the regular payment of child support. A rigorous evaluation of CSPED conducted by IRP researchers and colleagues at Mathematica Policy Research, in collaboration the Wisconsin Department of Children and Families, has the potential to inform critical national debates about how best to serve noncustodial parents and their children. The demonstration is an initiative of the Office of Child Support Enforcement in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' Administration for Children and Families.

The Child Support Demonstration Evaluation (CSDE)

Generally, states have retained child support payments made by nonresident parents of children on welfare to reimburse the state for the money expended on the child. Wisconsin's welfare program, W-2, in an approach to child support payments unique among the states, is "passing through" to the child all support paid by nonresident parents on behalf of a child receiving assistance. As part of the experiment, IRP is conducting a large-scale evaluation of the potential advantages and disadvantages of this new approach to child support, aiming also to increase our knowledge of the way the child support system works for low-income families.

Reports and data from the CSDE are fully available on this Web site.

Child Support Policy Research

IRP’s involvement in Wisconsin child support policies began in the 1970s with a set of major policy recommendations for the experimental implementation of a universal child support tax program, produced by a state Welfare Reform Study Advisory Committee chaired by IRP affiliate and former director Robert Haveman, professor of economics at UW–Madison. The relationship with the state continued during the directorship of Irwin Garfinkel, a nationally prominent researcher in the area of child well-being and child support. It resulted in an extended series of two-year research agreements between IRP and the state that have encompassed the development of consistent income standards for determining awards, policy evaluation, and the collection of an extended and uniquely complete series of court records of child support decisions in 21 Wisconsin counties.

A selection of reports to the state and research papers is available on this Web site.

Child Support Library and Archive

In this archive, IRP maintains a collection of published and unpublished papers comprising over 20 years of child support research. For information about the collection, contact Data Archivist Maggie Darby (e-mail: