CSDE: Origin and Purpose

First Evaluation Reports

W-2 Child Support Demonstration Evaluation, Phase 1: Final Report, April 2001

W-2 Child Support Demonstration Evaluation, Report on Nonexperimental Analyses, March 2002

W-2 Child Support Demonstration Evaluation, Phase 2: Final Report, July 2003

Second Evaluation Reports

Understanding the Effects of a Full Pass-through and Disregard

Steven T. Cook and Emma Caspar, December 2006

Part 1: A Comparison of Outcomes across Cohorts

In this, the first section in the last of four annual reports of the CSDE, researchers present six years’ of follow-up information for two randomly assigned cohorts, and two to five years’ of follow-up information for two later-entering, full-pass-through and disregard cohorts. This report corroborates earlier findings showing positive effects of the full pass-through and disregard policy on paternity establishment among later entrants, higher likelihood of child support payment in the early years of the program, and lower levels of W-2 use in the first year of the evaluation. The use of other programs, such as Food Stamps, Medicaid, and child care subsidies, and parents’ earnings and employment were not significantly different.

Part 2: Outcomes among Caretaker Supplement Cases

In this, the second section in the last of four annual reports of the CSDE, researchers examine outcomes for participants in Wisconsin’s Caretaker Supplement program (CTS), which provides assistance for parents receiving Supplement Security Income Benefits, and compare those outcomes to those for W-2 participants. The report indicates that CTS participants continued to receive CTS payments much longer than W-2 participants received W-2 payments. In line with the requirements of the CTS program, the employment, earnings, and child care subsidy participation among this clientele is substantially lower than for W-2 participants. W-2 cases had a higher likelihood of child support payment and higher amounts paid, probably due to the higher earnings of the noncustodial fathers of W-2 children.

Steven T. Cook, December 2006

This report examines the experiences of the American Indian population served by Wisconsin's W-2 program. While participation in W-2 among American Indians in the state is a small percentage of the total, the study examines this subgroup of the population within its unique context of demographics, socioeconomic status, and different regulatory jurisdictions (e.g., tribal courts). The report describes study findings concerning American Indians' participation in public-assistance programs, child support payments, paternity establishment, and earnings in the years after entry into the W-2 program using administrative data to examine the effects of child support pass-through and disregard policies of the CSDE on the American Indian population on W-2.

Maria Cancian, Daniel R. Meyer, and Jen Roff, April 2006

The authors consider a variety of policy approaches to the question of what to do with child support payments paid by a noncustodial parent on behalf of a family receiving public benefits. The report includes an analysis of the variation in pass-through/disregard policy over different periods in different states to evaluate the relationship between the disregard and pass-through level and such outcomes as paternity establishment and child support collections. The results show that higher child support disregards are associated with increased paternity establishment, while a pass-through without a disregard is less likely to yield the same benefits as a pass-through with a disregard.

Emma Caspar and Steven T. Cook, March 2006

This analysis estimates the state and federal costs of a full pass-through policy (where both federal and state shares of child support are paid to families) compared to a partial pass-through policy (where only the state share of child support is paid to families) for the population of W-2 cases subject to child support pass-through policy in Wisconsin. The majority of the net cost to the federal government is attributable simply to the loss of the federal share of child support that is passed through. To the state, the full pass-through policy results in a net savings, largely because of lower child care subsidies for those in the full pass-through group.

Steven T. Cook and Emma Caspar, February 2006

This difference-in-difference evaluation makes use of the opportunity provided by the end of the child support pass-through experiment to assess the changes in outcomes for custodial and noncustodial parents associated with the full pass-through and disregard policy.

The analysis compared the differences in outcome means between the group consistently receiving the full pass-through and the group that formerly received a partial pass-through, but began to receive the full pass-through as of July 2002, for the year prior to the policy change (July 2001-June 2002) and the two years after the policy change. The report posted here examines differences between the year prior and the year from July 2003-June 2004. We found that the difference in difference was consistently larger for those in the group formerly receiving the partial pass-through but that only the difference arising from the mechanical effect of the change to full pass-through on child support received was statistically significant.

A report that examined differences between the year prior and the year immediately after the change was completed in January 2005 but is not posted, because methodologies and findings were comparable to those presented here.

Hwa-Ok Park and Sandra Magaña, October 2005

The Caretaker Supplement (CTS), which began in 1997, provides a cash benefit to parents who are receiving SSI payments and raising minor children in the State of Wisconsin. In January 2004, almost 6,000 SSI parents were receiving benefits for 12,300 children. With data drawn from state administrative records, the Survey of Wisconsin Works Families, and focus groups, this report employs quantitative and qualitative methodologies to gain a deeper understanding of CTS and its role in the economic well-being of families headed by parents with disabilities.

Knowledge Reports

Maria Cancian, Daniel R. Meyer, and Kisum Nam, March 2005

The authors find that participants in a Wisconsin child support and welfare demonstration have very little knowledge about child support policy rules. Results suggest that people tend to learn policy rules by experience; there is less consistent support for knowledge being primarily imparted through interactions with caseworkers. The article also discusses the implications of this ignorance for policy evaluations. (Issued as DP1297-05)

Kisun Nam, Maria Cancian, and Daniel R. Meyer, February 2006

The results of the first phase of the CSDE evaluation suggested that most participants had very little understanding of how any child support paid to them would be treated. In this report we explore whether knowledge of the child support pass-through and disregard policy has changed since the initial implementation of the policy. We use the additional questions in the follow-up Survey of Wisconsin Works Families (SWWF) to explore whether knowledge about child support pass-through and disregard policy has increased among the initial W-2 families, and, if so, for which types of families. Our results suggest that many parents do not fully understand policy. We find evidence that child support agency staff provided useful information, and that those mothers who reported having heard media information were also better informed. This suggests that there are ways to directly improve policy knowledge. On the other hand, we also find that people learn from experience. This experiential learning takes time, and when policy changes, it again takes time for participants to adjust their understanding.

Thomas Kaplan and Victoria Mayer, February 2006

IRP researchers are interested in knowledge of the pass-through among families who entered W-2 later in the program, after the Child Support Pass-Through and Disregard experiment (CSDE) had ended and all W-2 participants received all current child support paid on their behalf. Because these participants were not part of the CSDE survey, this report relies on an alternative approach to assessing their knowledge, through two rounds of interviews with W-2 and child support agency staff who had contact with them. The interviews were conducted in 2002 and 2005. These interviews suggest that the policy of passing-through all current child support matches the philosophy of personal responsibility emphasized by the state's TANF program. Respondents in Milwaukee County, which has the largest concentration of families affected by the pass-through, believed that the adoption of the pass-through has increased custodial parents' cooperation in the establishment of child support. Staff in several counties also noted that the pass-through policy facilitates the efforts of W-2 case managers to build constructive relationships with program applicants. If this is correct, the benefits of the pass-through policy extend beyond the immediate financial gain experienced by families who receive it, helping to improve the cooperation of program participants with both W-2 and child support agency staff.

Understanding Complicated Families and Their Implications for Marriage and Child Support Policy

Maria Cancian and Daniel R. Meyer, with the assistance of Youseok Choi, June 2006

We explore the effects of a full pass-through and disregard of child support payments on the marriage and cohabitation rates of mothers using data from the Wave 3 Survey of Wisconsin Works Families. Findings indicate that mothers who receive full pass-through and disregard are significantly less likely to cohabit with men who are not the father of their child(ren). The findings support the hypothesis that increased child support increases women's economic independence, reducing their incentive to cohabit with men who are not the father of their children. We found no evidence of an increase in marriage rates for parents receiving a full pass-through and disregard.

Daniel R. Meyer, Maria Cancian, and Steven T. Cook, August 2004

Using a unique set of merged administrative data reports from mothers receiving TANF in Wisconsin and fathers associated with their children, we document the prevalence of multiple-partner fertility and complex family structures. We find complexity of some type in about three-quarters of all cases. We also find that formal child support payment patterns are different among cases with complex family structures. We outline implications of these findings for child support and welfare policy.

Tonya Brito, May 2005

When a parent has a second and even a third family and additional dependents, who should bear the post-dissolution costs of maintaining separate households—the first family, the subsequent families, or all families equally? The current child support guidelines, developed to assure greater uniformity in the calculation of child support orders and to increase predictability for families who seek orders, are most effective when they are applied in the least complex cases, and are not designed to fully address the complexities of the serial families that are commonplace in the United States today. This report identifies and analyzes cross-state variation in how guidelines treat additional dependents resulting from multiple-partner fertility.

Ethnographic Research Projects

Katherine A. Magnuson, February 2006

This report examines the factors that influence how a father supports his noncustodial children, with attention both to fathers’ economic resources and to multiple-partner fertility. Data come from the Time, Love, Cash, Caring, and Children (TLC3) project, a longitudinal, qualitative study of 75 romantically involved couples who also participated in the Fragile Families survey. The report analyzes (1) the use of the formal child support system and informal arrangements for children of previous relationships and (2) unmarried fathers’ financial contributions to their noncustodial children once their relationship with the TLC3 mother ends.

Jane Collins and Victoria Mayer, January 2006

Wisconsin’s policy providing a full child support pass-through and disregard of child support payments in calculating eligibility offers a new source of income for W-2 families. It also requires that both custodial and noncustodial parents comply with new rules. This report investigates the effects of both changes, as well as how participants perceive the trade-offs. The researchers reviewed child support policy documents, and in three counties conducted short interviews with local child support administrators and longer ethnographic interviews with a stratified sample of 42 women. The interviews covered family transitions, work history, and changing sources of formal and informal income in an effort to determine how child support income and child support enforcement policies affect economic well-being and family structure.

Reports on Parents' Policy Knowledge

David Pate, June 2006

This report builds on earlier work, and relied on face-to-face interviews with randomly selected fathers of children receiving W-2 benefits, followed, where possible, by an interview with the mother of one of the father's children. This work again explores the level of knowledge about child support pass-through/disregard policy among parents receiving public assistance in Dane County. It is unique in that it explores the experiences, knowledge, and attitudes of couples—rather than focusing on results by gender—associated with W-2 and also allows for comparisons across and within races.

David Pate, March 2006

This report evaluates the extent of knowledge of custodial and noncustodial parents by race, gender, and geographic location about Wisconsin's pass-through and disregard of child support payments. Sixteen focus groups were conducted in seven counties, four urban and three rural, of custodial parents and noncustodial parents who received public benefits in Wisconsin. The intent of the research was to explore similarities and differences in perspectives and experiences across sites, and between mothers and fathers.

Child Support Enforcement Projects

Judi Bartfeld, February 2005

The notion that arrears have a deterrent effect on child support payments has been raised repeatedly in the qualitative literature, but there have only been limited efforts to examine this quantitatively. This report examines the relationship between child support arrearages owed to the state and subsequent compliance with ongoing support obligations. The author uses a framework that recognizes that the determinants of compliance differ for employed and nonemployed fathers and attempts to disentangle the effects of overall arrearages from the effects of having an obligation to pay birth-related costs (known as lying-in costs).

Geoffrey L. Wallace, February 2005

Are fertility decisions are responsive to the strength of child support enforcement efforts? This project uses individual-level data from the 2001 panel of the Survey of Income and Program Participation (SIPP) along with state-level data on child support collection rates, welfare rules, and unemployment rates to assess whether the strength of state child support enforcement efforts has an effect on fertility and marriage among single women. The report finds little evidence that child support enforcement efforts have any effect on nonmarital fertility or marriage.