Child Support Policy Research Publications

IRP Discussion Papers and Reprints
Other Publications

The documents included here consist of reports written under contract to the state of Wisconsin and research papers written by IRP-affiliated faculty and IRP staff in the various child support projects that IRP has fielded over many years.

The reports draw upon a wide range of county, state, and national data. These include IRP data from the Wisconsin Court Record Demonstration Project and the Wisconsin Child Support Demonstration Evaluation (CSDE); administrative data from the State of Wisconsin, such as the State's child support accounting system; and national data on child support enforcement policies and programs such as that available from the Office of Child Support Enforcement in the Department of Health and Human Services. Full texts of many reports are posted on this Web page, below; reports listed here, but not posted in full, may be available upon request.

Researchers associated with IRP have conducted a wide range of studies on child support issues. Much of this research is available in IRP Discussion Papers, Reprints, or Special Reports. Information about these publications, and full texts of many of them, can be retrieved through keyword and author searches using the IRP Publications Database.

Some datasets for IRP child support projects are publicly available. Other IRP-managed data may be available upon request from the archives manager, Maggie Darby at Reports and other publications produced as part of the CSDE are available at the CSDE Publications page.


Child Support Enforcement Use of Contempt and Criminal Nonsupport Charges in Wisconsin

Steven T. Cook, September 2015
[Available in PDF format: Report]

The Use of Child Support Guidelines in Wisconsin: 1996 to 2007

Steven T. Cook and Patricia Brown, December 2013
[Available in PDF format: Report | PowerPoint Presentation]

As required by federal regulations, each state must perform a periodic review of child support guidelines, based in part on analysis of the actual application of these guidelines in a sample of cases. This report presents such an analysis; the authors compare the amounts of actual child support orders with the expected amounts calculated from the guidelines, and, in those cases where the guidelines appear not to be used, they examine court records for any explicit statements about reasons for deviating from those guidelines. The report builds on earlier work, analyzing cases entering court in more recent periods, including both divorce and paternity court cases, and different types of placement arrangements. Combining newer cases with those covered in previous reports allows the authors to examine trends in guideline usage from 1996 to 2007.

The authors conclude that consistency with the guidelines has declined, and that this decline is only partially explained by changes in placement arrangements and in the composition of cases coming to court. Cases that are eligible for special provisions in the guidelines (serial cases, low- and high-income cases, and shared placement cases) are less likely to receive consistent orders. Given that compliance with state law requiring explanations for deviating from the guidelines appears to be low in available written records (although it has improved), the authors argue that gaining a greater understanding of the reasons courts have not implemented the guidelines may require more direct contact with court officials involved in setting orders.

Refugees and the Wisconsin Child Support Enforcement System

Patricia R. Brown and Steven T. Cook, December 2012
[Available in PDF format: Report | PowerPoint Presentation]

Unlike most immigrant groups, refugees are eligible for a number of public assistance programs which trigger mandatory participation in the child support system under Title IV-D. This report divides refugees living in Wisconsin into geographical and ethnic groups and analyzes their economic status, location, and family characteristics. It examines interactions with the child support system for refugees as a whole, and by group. The analysis was completed using the Multi-Sample Person File (MSPF) 2010 database which merges CARES and KIDS (the Wisconsin child support enforcement data system) with data from the state Unemployment Insurance program.

Most refugees in Wisconsin are concentrated in urban areas of the state, particularly in Milwaukee County. The analysis finds that over 76 percent of minor children of refugees living in Wisconsin live with both of their parents and that an additional 5 percent have a deceased parent. These findings suggest that overall child support enforcement needs among the refugee population are comparatively low. However, outcomes could be improved with targeted efforts to establish paternity and set orders among urban refugee populations.

Children's Placement Arrangements in Divorce and Paternity Cases in Wisconsin

Patricia Brown and Steven T. Cook, November 2012
[Available in PDF format: Report | PowerPoint Presentation]

Child Support Referrals for Out-of-Home Placements: A Review of Policy and Practice

Carol Chellew, Jennifer L. Noyes, and Rebekah Selekman, October 2012
[Available in PDF format: Report]

Holding Child Support Orders of Incarcerated Payers in Abeyance: Final Evaluation Report

Jennifer L. Noyes, Maria Cancian, and Laura Cuesta, September 2012
[Available in PDF format: Report | PowerPoint Presentation]

Interactions of the Child Support and Child Welfare Systems: Child Support Referral for Families Served by the Child Welfare System, Final Report

Maria Cancian, Steven Cook, Mai Seki, and Lynn Wimer, May 2012
{Available in PDF format: Report]

Interactions of the Child Support and Child Welfare Systems: Child Support Enforcement after Family Reunification

Maria Cancian, Steven Cook, Mai Seki, and Lynn Wimer, May 2012
[Available in PDF format: Report]

Fathers' Investments of Time and Money across Residential Contexts

Marcia J. Carlson, Alicia G. VanOrman, and Kimberly J. Turner, May 2012
[Available in PDF format: Report | PowerPoint Presentation]

Fathers' roles in family life have changed dramatically over the past fifty years. High and rising divorce rates, the growing proportion of births that occur outside of marriage, and the higher likelihood of children living with their mothers when their parents' union ends have resulted in a striking decline in the proportion of men living with their own biological children since the mid-1960s. In addition, mothers are increasingly likely to be employed outside the home, while fathers' roles have expanded from primarily that of the 'breadwinner' to include that of caregiver.

In this report, the authors: (1) Describe the prevalence of fathers' economic capacities and contributions and their level of direct involvement and interaction with children, comparing resident versus non-resident fathers; (2) Evaluate how fathers' economic capacities and contributions are linked to fathers' direct involvement for both resident and non-resident fathers; and (3) Analyze whether and how state-level child support effectiveness is associated with non-resident fathers' total child support payments and their direct involvement with children. They find important differences in how fathering plays out for resident versus non-resident fathers. Resident fathers experience a trade-off between their time in the labor market and their time directly involved with children. In contrast, for non-resident fathers, greater financial capabilities and contributions 'go together' with being involved in other ways with their children. Given the low economic resources of many non-resident fathers, this circumstance may create challenges for fathers to remain actively involved in their children's lives with respect to both money and time.

The Role of Child Support in the Current Economic Safety Net for Low-Income Families with Children

Kristen S. Slack, Lawrence M. Berger, Bomi Kim, and Mi Youn Yang, May 2012
Available in PDF format: Report | PowerPoint Presentation]

Following the passage of welfare reform in the mid-1990s and the end of entitlement benefits under Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, the U.S. economic safety net has become increasingly individualized. In fact, it is no longer clear whether low-income families tend to rely on particular types of public benefits, or whether there are characteristics that differentiate benefit "packaging." Furthermore, the extent to which child support, as a source of family income, varies as a function of benefit packaging and earnings from employment is not known.

This project examines the combinations of child support and other sources of income (including earnings) comprising economic safety nets for low-income families. In addition to child support and earnings, the income sources we explore include Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits, child care subsidies, unemployment insurance (UI) benefits, Supplemental Security Income (SSI), and Medicaid, using data from administrative records on a sample of families participating in the Women, Infants, and Children's (WIC) Program in Wisconsin. We find that child support makes up a relatively low proportion of the economic safety net for WIC recipients, but this proportion is fairly constant across income levels and is complementary to both work and welfare. The findings from this investigation may be useful to social service programs as they attempt to identify safety net resources for economically struggling families.

Economic Well-Being of Divorced Mothers with Varying Child Placement Arrangements in Wisconsin: Contributions of Child Support and Other Income Sources

Judi Bartfeld, Hong-Min Ahn, and Jeong Hee Ryu, April 2012
[Available in PDF format: Report]

Child Support Models and the Perception of "Fairness"

Jennifer L. Noyes, December 2011
[Available in PDF format: Report | PowerPoint Presentation]

Child Support Orders and the Incarceration of Noncustodial Parents

Daniel R. Meyer and Emily Warren, December 2011
[Available in PDF format: Report | PowerPoint Presentation]

Shared Placement: An Overview of Prevalence, Trends, Economic Implications, and Impacts on Child Well-Being

Judi Bartfeld, December 2011
[Available in PDF format: Report]

Divorce rates have increased dramatically since the 1960s, reaching their highest rate in the 1980s and since stabilizing. Over the course of this period, there have been major changes in law and practice around marital dissolution, with implications for parental roles in custody arrangements and financial responsibility. In this report, the author reviews existing research conducted in Wisconsin and elsewhere, in order to examine trends, patterns, and implications of shared placement custody arrangements.

The author finds compelling evidence of rapid and continuing growth in shared placement in Wisconsin with the suggestion of similar patterns across the country. Despite this growth, we know very little about how to assess economic well-being in the context of shared placement. The little existing research suggests that children's economic well-being does not generally change substantially under shared placement relative to traditional mother placement arrangements, although children on average do seem to fare somewhat worse in one of their homes than they would under sole-mother placement. Existing research also provides little evidence that shared placement is worse for overall child well-being than sole-mother placement, and at least some evidence that it is better. Overall the evidence offers reason to be cautiously optimistic about shared placement as used, while leaving many unanswered questions. The report calls for more nationwide data on shared placement, and rigorous studies that make stronger causal links between placement type and family economic and child well-being.

The Families Forward Program Final Evaluation Report

Carolyn Heinrich, Brett Burkhardt, Hilary Shager, and Lara Rosen, January 2011
[Available in PDF format: PowerPoint Presentation | 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 and the suspension of interest charges on debt, under the stipulation that the noncustodial parent make child support payments as ordered by the court. For every dollar that participating noncustodial parents paid in support, their unpaid debt was reduced by an extra $0.50 or $1.00. Interest charging on debt was also suspended during program participation.

This final report on the Families Forward program presents findings from an experimental and nonexperimental evaluation. Consistent with the findings from earlier reports, researchers found that noncustodial parents participating in Families Forward, compared to nonparticipants, made larger payments toward current child support and debt balances, were more likely to pay and to pay more frequently, and significantly reduced their state-and family-owed debt balances.

The rate of enrollment of noncustodial parents into the program was low. An implementation analysis included in this report identifies a number of reasons for the low take-up rate. Focus groups and follow-up surveys also provided valuable suggestions for increasing participation. Given the positive outcomes of the Families Forward program, researchers suggest that its promise outweighs any potential limitations experienced in the pilot program.

Child Support in an Economic Downturn: Changes in Earnings, Child Support Orders, and Payments

Chi-Fang Wu, January 2011
[Available in PDF format: PowerPoint Presentation | Report]

This is the second of two reports in a research project documenting the effects of the economic downturn on child support. The first report used interviews with child support staff and family court commissioners in five Wisconsin counties. This second report uses recent Wisconsin data to assess whether the patterns reported in those five counties are reflected in administrative data for the state as a whole.

The data show that earnings decreased over time, and a significant proportion of noncustodial father experiences large changes in earnings. Most child support orders remained unchanged over the study period, though orders were more likely to be changed when significant changes in earnings occurred. The proportion of fathers who paid any child support decreased over time, although the amount of child support paid among fathers who paid remained relatively stable during the four-year period. Moreover, the results indicate that both earnings changes and order changes were strongly associated with changes in payments, particularly among those with large change in earnings and orders.

The findings highlight the importance of policies that provide additional income and employments supports for single-parent families, as child support receipts are likely to decline as their own earnings drop. Providing and extending work support to noncustodial fathers would also enhance those fathers' ability to pay child support. Finally, the extent to which child support orders remained stable is notable, even as earnings declined during an economic downturn.

Updating Estimates of the Costs of Raising Children with a Focus on Medical Support Costs

Maximilian D. Schmeiser and Gina M. Longo, December 2010
Available in PDF format: PowerPoint Presentation | Report]

Federal regulations require each state to perform a mandatory periodic review of child support guidelines. Wisconsin child support policymakers have tried to address the multiple interests of the child, the custodial parent, noncustodial parent, and the State. Wisconsin, like most states, uses the "continuity-of-expenditure" concept to formulate its guidelines. The goal of this concept is to maintain the standard of living that the child has been accustomed to when living within a two-parent family. Children should not be adversely affected economically by the separation of their parents, or by being born into a household where their parents were not cohabitating. This model emphasizes expenditure, which is based on all direct and indirect expenses pertaining to the child, rather than cost that implies the numerical price of items or services provided for a child. This philosophy has its challenges, particularly determining which expenses should be considered and their level of importance in relation to other variables. This is especially difficult when trying to operationalize and quantify indirect costs, such as parenting time and lost opportunity. This paper is an exploratory literature review to reevaluate the previously identified expenditures that have affected child support calculation, with particular emphasis on the rising cost of health care.

Child Support in a Recession: A Report on Interviews with Child Support Staff and Court Commissioners in Five Counties

Thomas Kaplan, June 2010
[Available in PDF format: PowerPoint Presentation | Report]

Interviews with child support staff and family court commissioners in five Wisconsin counties (Burnett, Lincoln, Marinette, Milwaukee and Rock) were used to assess the effects on child support of the severe recession that began in late 2008. Key objectives of the interviews were to assess (1) how child support and court staff set original orders when the obligor is unemployed; (2) whether and how child support and court staff adjust existing orders when obligors lose their jobs or experience reductions in earnings; and (3) whether child support agencies and courts have changed their practices on these questions since the severe economic downturn began.

Interviews indicate that the recession has increased the sympathy of child support staff and family court commissioners to the difficulties faced by noncustodial parents, who all said they had been altering orders as circumstances changed.  The setting of initial orders appears to have changed more slowly with the recession, although counties are apparently somewhat more likely to slightly delay cash orders. In addition, child support agencies and courts have lowered the hours expected in imputed income cases from 40 hours per week to 30 or 35.

The second part of this research project will assess whether these reported tendencies are reflected in administrative data for the state as a whole.

“I’m Not Supporting His Kids”: Noncustodial Fathers’ Contributions When Mothers Have Children with New Partners

Maria Cancian and Daniel R. Meyer, April 2010
[Available in PDF format: PowerPoint Presentation | Report]

Many nonresident parents provide informal and formal child support to their children who do not live with them. Although there is a significant body of research on formal child support, much less is known about informal support. More specifically, little is known about trends in informal support, especially whether informal support changes as family relationships evolve, for example when parents have children with new partners.

In this report, the authors examine the existence of, and trends in, informal support for resident mothers who were in the first cohort of TANF participants in Wisconsin. The authors find that informal support is fairly common at the beginning of the study period, but declines over time. Declines in informal support are more likely for mothers who have children with new partners. Difference-in-difference results suggest that fathers are less likely to provide support that is not child-specific when another father's children are added to the household.

This research complements other work examining how fathers respond to complicated families through the formal system. Because family complexity is becoming increasingly common, the policy response in the child support system and in other systems is quite important.

Factors Associated with Nonpayment of Child Support
Yoonsook Ha, Maria Cancian, Daniel R. Meyer, and Eunhee Han, September 2008
[Available in PDF format: PowerPoint Presentation | Report]

The child support enforcement system has been strengthened and routinized over the past three decades, and yet, despite the employment of an automated enforcement system, recent statistics show that only half of noncustodial parents pay the full amount of what they owe. This report examined potential factors that may be related to noncompliance. We found that the child support enforcement system generally works as intended when fathers had earnings throughout the year and the earnings were more than $20,000. Nearly all fathers who did not pay had unstable employment or earnings, and a significant minority of them was incarcerated. Finally, our findings also suggest that a significant proportion of non-full payers had limited economic resources or limited capacity to meet their child support obligation. The effectiveness of the child support enforcement system is also contingent on fathers’ economic ability to pay child support. Therefore, it may be necessary not only to improve the enforcement system, but also to provide noncustodial fathers who have unstable employment or who had been incarcerated with services, such as job training programs or job search services, to improve their capacity to meet their child support obligations.

Improving Medical Support Order Enforcement in Wisconsin
Steven T. Cook and Thomas Kaplan, September 2008
[Available in PDF format: PowerPoint Presentation | Report]

In this report, the authors document the operation of the State of Wisconsin’s newly automated health order data match and enforcement system for child support cases in which the children participate in Medicaid and for other child support cases. They also examine how medical support enforcement outcomes have changed since the new system has been in place.

A Decade of Voluntary Paternity Acknowledgment in Wisconsin: 1997–2007
Patricia R. Brown and Steven T. Cook, May 2008
[Available in PDF format: PowerPoint Presentation | Report]

Starting in the mid-1990s, Wisconsin implemented policies to encourage the use of voluntary paternity acknowledgment (VPA) in cases of nonmarital births. The motivation for these policies was to increase unmarried fathers’ financial and nonfinancial participation in their children’s lives. An earlier report on the results of these policies (Brown, Cook, and Wimer, 2004) found that 48 percent of nonmarital IV-D children born in 2001 had their paternity determined through the VPA process within 6 months after birth. This report expands upon the previous report in several ways: by determining the proportion of VPA cases that enter the child support system and assessing how those cases are different from VPA cases that do not; determining how the use of voluntary paternity acknowledgment and the associated child support outcomes have changed over time; and by tracking outcomes over a longer timeframe, providing the opportunity for additional children to have paternity established, and for child support outcomes to be observed for a longer period of time.

How Did the 2004 Change in Wisconsin's Guidelines Affect Child Support Payments?
Ingrid E. Rothe, Steven T. Cook, and Anat Yom-Tov, January 2008

This report builds on analysis reported on in "The Compliance of New Wisconsin Child Support Orders with the Wisconsin Guideline: Pre- and Post-2004." In this follow-up report, the authors continue to examine changes associated with the January 2004 guidelines modification by focusing on payments, rather than orders. The report examines relationships between the payments made before and after January 1, 2004, and other variables, focusing primarily on low- and high-income payers in sole placement cases.

The authors again find scant evidence that courts changed their methods for setting orders in the ways described in the guidelines revision. They find increases in the compliance rate for lower-income cases, cases which are the anticipated target of the guidelines change, but not other expected results of the guidelines changes, such as lower orders and lower burdens for the low and high income groups. Given the lack of adoption by courts of the guideline recommendations, the authors conclude that it is unsurprising that the expected outcomes of the new guidelines did not, for the most part, occur.

The Compliance of New Wisconsin Child Support Orders with the Wisconsin Guideline: Pre- and Post-2004
Ingrid E. Rothe, Jennifer L. Noyes, Lynn Wimer, and Anat Yom-Tov, July 2007

Using the Wisconsin Court Record Data (CRD), this report focuses on the implications for sole-custody cases of a January 2004 amendment to the guidelines that changed the treatment of low- and high-income payers relative to other payers, and eliminated the previous requirement for uniform treatment of payers regardless of income. In particular, the authors examine the extent to which the courts have adopted the use of the new guideline in determining the amount of new orders in sole-custody cases for three groups: those with low incomes who would be subject to the change, those with high incomes who would be subject to the change, and those with mid-range incomes who should be unaffected by the change.

They find that overall compliance with the guideline was considerably lower for orders established after the 2004 change. In addition, compared to earlier years, new non-guideline-compliant orders were somewhat more likely to have been set above the guideline. Although the authors cannot determine with any certainty the underlying cause of these trends, they describe a number of alternative analyses completed in order to explain them. More information on this topic is included in the follow-up report, "How Did the 2004 Change in Wisconsin's Guidelines Affect Child Support Payments?"

The Regularity of Child Support and Its Contribution to the Regularity of Income
Yoonsook Ha, Maria Cancian, and Daniel R. Meyer, April 2007

Child support is a potentially important income source for a broad set of families. A substantial amount of research has been conducted on the factors associated with the amount of child support paid and received. But for child support to be most effective at helping custodial families meet their expenses, the regularity of support may be important as well. This paper builds on previous analyses and focuses on custodial mothers rather than noncustodial fathers and on receipts, not payments, but it explicitly separates payments from different fathers to provide a more informative measure of regularity. Moreover, it adds a new set of analyses, comparing the extent of regularity of child support to that of several other income sources and to total income, and explicitly examining whether child support is exacerbating or smoothing the irregularity of custodial mothers’ total income package.

Estimating the Costs of Children: Theoretical Considerations Related to Transitions to Adulthood and the Valuation of Parental Time for Developing Child Support Guidelines
Ingrid Rothe and Lawrence M. Berger, April 2007

Wisconsin and many other states use a "continuity of expenditures model" in setting child support policy. The model is based on the concept that children in divorced or never-married families should benefit from expenditures that would have been made on their behalf had they coresided with both of their parents. This report is intended to inform the determination of reasonable child support order policy guidelines using that framework by estimating the costs of children and by evaluating alternative models and theories about how intact, two-parent families allocate resources on behalf of their children. The report makes no firm recommendations about how evolving research on the costs of raising children should affect child support policy, but instead summarizes the research and suggests possible policy implications.

Child Support Income and Copayments in the Wisconsin Shares Child Care Subsidy Program
Steven T. Cook, March 2007

The Wisconsin Shares child care subsidy program provides assistance to low-income families who need help with child care in order to work. Families must meet both financial and nonfinancial eligibility criteria to participate and are expected to pay part of the cost of the child care in the form of copayments that are calculated according to a sliding scale. Currently, child and family support payments are not counted as income when determining financial eligibility or expected copayment amounts. This report estimates the fiscal effect of considering child and family support as income for purposes of calculating Wisconsin Shares copayment amounts, including the effect on families that would retain eligibility but experience higher copayments.

Wisconsin's 2004 Shared-Physical-Placement Guidelines: Their Use and Implications in Divorce Cases
Patricia Brown and Maria Cancian, March 2007

Using Wisconsin Court Record Data (CRD) that IRP has collected in 21 Wisconsin counties, this report studies differences in child support orders and time-share placement before and after significant changes were made to the Wisconsin child support guidelines in January 2004. The new guidelines generally include lower child support orders at lower levels of time-share, and higher child support orders at or near the level of equal shared placement. The authors analyze whether there is evidence that the changes influence parents' behavior and divorce-case final judgments. They find continued growth in shared placement in divorce cases, and declines in both sole-mother and sole-father placement; a greater increase in unequal shared-placement cases; and a long-term trend of declining litigation in divorces cases, in all categories except those with unequal shared placement. The financial incentives introduced by the 2004 guidelines have countervailing effects on the parents with greater and lesser time placement.

Characteristics of Shared-Placement Child Support Formulas Used in the Fifty States
Patricia Brown and Tonya Brito, March 2007

In divorce and paternity cases where separated parents share time with the child equally, where responsibilities for costs of raising the child are shared equally, and where incomes of the parents are similar, most persons would agree that no child support payment is necessary. Conversely, when the time spent with parents is not equal, the incomes of the parents are not equal, or the responsibilities for costs are not equal, most child support policymakers would agree that an order of child support is appropriate. Under these circumstances, however, child support guidelines are needed because it is not intuitively obvious what an equitable child support order would be. This report is an update of a report by Melli and Brown (1994) that explored the use of guidelines in shared placement cases in the early 1990s. In this paper we focus primarily on the mathematics of the various formulas. The paper concludes by recommending a formula which is not difficult to understand and which allows lesser-time parents to sometimes become the child support payee.

Eligibility for Child Care Subsidies of Parents with Child Support Income
Emma Caspar and Steven T. Cook, November 2006

The Wisconsin Shares child care subsidy program provides assistance to low-income families that need help with child care in order to work. Families must meet both financial and non-financial eligibility criteria to participate. Currently, child and family support payments are not counted as income when determining financial eligibility. In this report, we assess the extent to which families participating in the child care subsidy program would be disqualified, were support income considered in calculating eligibility and benefit levels.

The Stability of Child Support Orders
Yoonsook Ha, Daniel R. Meyer, and Maria Cancian, December 2006

Using data mainly drawn from the Kids Information Data System, the report explores the following three questions: (1) How often do noncustodial parents' earnings change over a five-year period? (2) To what extent do child support orders change, and are these changes related to the changes in earnings? (3) Do changes in payments occur over this five-year period, and if so, are the changes linked to changes in earnings, orders or both? Findings suggest that a substantial proportion of fathers experience large changes in earnings in this five-year period; that relatively few of the cases with large changes in earnings have a large change in the amount of child support owed; and that both changes in earnings and changes in the amount of child support orders are strong predictors of changes in payments.

Alternative Approaches to Child Support Policy in the Context of Multiple-Partner Fertility
Maria Cancian and Daniel R. Meyer, December 2006

This report examines possible alternative child support policy approaches in cases where the mother and/or father have children with other partners, simulating the results of different policy regimes on outcomes for families. One purpose of the report is to examine the extent of complications in Wisconsin child support cases that are caused by multiple-partner fertility, to see whether a systematic approach to child support in such complicated cases is called for.

Review of Child Support Policies for Incarcerated Payers
Jennifer L. Noyes, December 2006

This report explores the emerging set of concerns about incarcerated noncustodial parents and whether they should be held to the terms of child support orders given their change in circumstances. The report provides background information about the extent to which NCPs are incarcerated, an outline of major policy and practice options under consideration nationwide, examples of the policies and practices of six states, reviews of the extent to which the outcomes of current policies have been evaluated, and an outline of the implications of the information provided.

Review of Child Support Policies for Multiple Family Obligations: Five Case Studies
Emma Caspar, September 2006

This report describes the child support policies of five states in cases where one or both parents has had children with two or more partners. The collected information also informs the simulation models used in a related report on the outcomes of current and potential alternative policies for families in Wisconsin. The paper examines how five states' child support policies address the question "When a parent has a second family, should the obligation to the first family be reduced, do prior-born children take precedence, or should all children be treated equally?" The five locations included in this study are: North Dakota, the District of Columbia, Colorado, New Jersey, and Montana.

The Use of Wisconsin's Child Support Guidelines: Evidence from 2000 through 2003
Emma Caspar, Ingrid Rothe, and Anat Yom-Tov, July 2006

This report examines child support orders in Wisconsin to determine if they are consistent with the percentage-expressed standard that should be used to set child support orders in Wisconsin. Using a sample of child support cases that entered the Wisconsin family court system, the researchers' findings were mixed. In about 28 percent of the cases, there was no order; 25 percent were below the guidelines; 39 percent are consistent with the guidelines; and 7 percent are above the guidelines.

Recent Trends in Children's Placement Arrangements in Divorce and Paternity Cases in Wisconsin
Steven T. Cook and Patricia Brown, May 2006

Using a sample of cases from 21 counties in the Wisconsin Court Record Data (CRD), this report analyzes the change over time of child placement in divorce and paternity cases. The researchers found that, although mother sole placement remains the most common arrangement for physical placement of children following divorce, growth in the use of shared mother-father placement is continuing.

Divorced Wisconsin Families with Shared Child Placements
Patricia Brown, Eun Hee Joung, and Lawrence M. Berger, February 2006

Using Wisconsin Court Record data, this report describes the living arrangements of children in Wisconsin families with (equal and unequal) shared physical placements following their parents' divorce, and examines the stability of those placements during the three years after the divorce.

The Father-Child Relationship in Voluntary Paternity Acknowledgment Cases
Patricia R. Brown, February 2006

Using Wisconsin Court Record data, this report examines the effect of voluntarily acknowledged paternity on the relationship between fathers and their nonmarital children in the early years of the child's life. Related report: Patricia R. Brown, Steven T. Cook, and Lynn Wimer, Voluntary Paternity Acknowledgment, IRP DP1302-05.

Alternative Cost-of-Living Adjustments to Child Support Orders: A Simulation Using Wisconsin Orders
Ingrid E. Rothe, September 2004

This report considers the potential effects of implementing an automatic cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) to modify child support awards in Wisconsin. The first half of the report-based primarily on literature reviews, analysis of state child support legislation, and discussion with officials in other states-presents alternative strategies for automated updating of orders that have been contemplated or tried elsewhere. Most of the material in the first half of the report appeared in the author's earlier report, "Alternative Cost-of-Living Adjustments to Child Support Orders," September 2003. The second half of the report analyzes the potential impacts of implementing one of the alternative COLA adjustments in Wisconsin.

Selected Child Support Enforcement Tools: How Are They Used in Wisconsin?
Ingrid E. Rothe, Yoonsook Ha, and Marya Sosulski, August 2004

As part of changes to the child support enforcement system over the past 20 years, state have implemented an expanded set of tools designed to improve enforcement. This paper uses information from survey and administrative data in Wisconsin to better understand how the new techniques are implemented by county child support agencies and whether they contribute to increased collections. Officials in four county child support agencies (Chippewa, Eu Claire, Racine, and Winnebago) were interviewed; the counties exhibited marked differences in organization of the enforcement process. Analysis focused on three types of enforcement actions that were more frequently utilized: enforcement letters, contempt hearings, and Notice of Lien and Credit Bureau Reporting. Use of these tools increased substantially in 2000. The most effective method of initiating payment, in cases of nonsupport, was through wage withholding.

A two-page summary accompanies this report. (Also available in Adobe Acrobat (.pdf) format, 2 pp.)
(pdf, text, 43 pp.; summary, 2 pp.)

Voluntary Paternity Acknowledgment
Patricia R. Brown, Steven T. Cook, and Lynn Wimer, July 2004
[Issued as IRP DP 1302-05, May 2005]

Since the mid-1990s the state of Wisconsin has operated a voluntary paternity acknowledgment process that allows the fathers of nonmarital children born in the state to voluntarily acknowledge their paternity by signing a notarized form, instead of going through a judicial hearing. This report examines the relationship between the use of paternity acknowledgment and two measures of fathers' subsequent participation in the responsibilities of child-rearing: paying child support and having the children live with them. Voluntary paternity acknowledgment, as compared to adjudicated paternity, is associated with a lower incidence of child support orders, higher likelihood of payment when an order exists, and a greater likelihood of shared child placement.

A summary accompanies this report. (Also available in Adobe Acrobat (.pdf) format, 1 pp.)
(pdf, text, 62 pp.; summary, 1 p.)

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

This report, prepared for the Bureau of Child Support, Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development, uses Wisconsin survey data from the Child Support Demonstration Evaluation to assess the importance of child support for mothers entering the state's Wisconsin Works (W-2) program in 1997-98, its first year. It compares these mothers with a broader group of low-income families from Wisconsin and other states that form part of the National Survey of America's Families (NSAF). Both W-2 participants and those from the NSAF sample experienced consistent improvements in child support over time and across the income distribution, suggesting that a continued focus on improving the effectiveness of the child support system can make a major contribution to the well-being of vulnerable families with children. 14 pp., 9 figs., 3 tables.

A two-page summary accompanies this report. (Also available in Adobe Acrobat (.pdf) format, 2 pp.)

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

Explores the relationships between income, the amount of child support owed, and the amount of child support paid, using two data sets from Wisconsin: the Wisconsin Court Record Database and the Kids Information Data System (KIDS). There is no evidence to suggest that orders that are "too high" discourage those who owe child support and will result in lower payments. In general, the authors find, fathers with higher orders make higher payments in the first year after the order. (pdf, text, 26 pp.; summary, 2 pp.)

Forgiveness of State-Owed Child Support Arrears
Judi Bartfeld, February 2003

Child support arrears owed by noncustodial parents, and their possible effects on child support agencies, parents, and children are an issue of increasing policy concern. This report provides an overview of the magnitude of arrears, the factors that contribute, and the problems stemming from high arrears, and considers one general policy approach to reducing arrears that have already accrued, the forgiveness of arrears owed to the state. (pdf, 43 pp., SR 84)

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

This report explores the practicality and the potential savings to the state from identifying Wisconsin children who have a noncustodial parent with access to affordable health insurance that provides coverage for dependents, and to assure that such children are covered under that plan. The investigation determined that some children now covered by the Wisconsin Medicaid program have noncustodial parents who have health insurance and that savings would be possible if those insurance carriers could be identified and billed as a result of routine data matching. 2003. (Also available in Adobe Acrobat (.pdf) format, text, 8 pp.)

Children's Living Arrangements in Divorced Wisconsin Families with Shared Placement
M. Krecker, P. Brown, M. Melli, and L. Wimer, September 2002 (revised June 2003)

This report sheds new light on the stability of shared physical placement after a divorce and provides useful evidence on the issues raised in the 1992 book, Dividing the Child, by Maccoby and Mnookin. (pdf, 64 pp., SR 83)

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

This report examines the use of the guidelines in shared placement cases, using data from the Wisconsin Court Record Database for two time periods: (1) under the September 1987 standard and (2) under the March 1995 standard. The analysis is limited to divorced parents, because shared placement appeared to be extremely uncommon in paternity cases. The reports estimate compliance with the guidelines for a wide variety of subgroups-by age and income of either parent, by number, sex, and age of children, by length of marriage, by residential location. One of the purposes of the 1995 revision was to address the absence of guidelines in cases where placement is equally shared between the parents, which is now by far the most common outcome in custody cases. Such cases were still much more likely to have no order, or to have orders below the guideline, than were unequal shared cases.

A summary accompanies this report. (Also available in Adobe Acrobat (.pdf) format, 1 pp.) (pdf, text, 24 pp.; summary, 1 p.)

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

In considering where children should live after their parents divorce, state law formerly gave explicit preference to the mother. This gender preference has now been removed from law in all states, and shared placement has become more common. In Wisconsin, shared placement became presumptive as of May 2000. This research examines whether these laws are having an effect by examining physical placement outcomes among Wisconsin divorces from 1996 to 1998, compared to divorces coming to court from 1990 to 1993. Between the earlier and later periods, the analysis found a clear move away from mother sole placement, which declined from 74.6 percent to 63.7 percent of cases. Shared placement, both equal and unequal, more than doubled over these 5-6 years. Placement outcomes varied dramatically only when we examined legal representation-whether only one parent (and which parent), both, or neither were represented.

A two-page summary accompanies this report. (Also available in Adobe Acrobat (.pdf) format, 2 pp.)
(pdf, text, 20 pp.; summary, 2 pp.)

Estimates of Family Expenditures for Children: A Review of the Literature
I. Rothe, J. Cassetty, and E. Boehnen, April 2001

This report reviews the existing literature regarding estimates of expenditures for children, discusses the implications for Wisconsin's standard, and identifies areas where future research may be required. (pdf, 51 pp.)

Child Support Disregard Policies and Program Outcomes
J. Cassetty, M. Cancian, and D. Meyer, 2001

This report explores the effects of various levels of disregards on IV-D paternity establishment and child support collections across all states.

The Importance of Child Support in Leavers' Post-Welfare Incomes
M. Cancian, D. Meyer, and C. White, 2000

This report provides new information on the role of child support in contributing to the incomes of women who have left welfare.

Joint Legal Custody and Child Support Payments
J. Seltzer and V. Maralani, 2000

This report addresses the question: Does joint legal custody increase child support payments? It describes differences in formal child support payments for those with and without joint legal custody among divorce cases. It examines legal custody differences through the sixth year after divorce, to assess whether any economic benefits of joint legal custody endure through a significant part of childhood.

Child Support and the W-2 Self-Sufficiency Ladder: Patterns and Implications
M. Cancian and D. Meyer, 1999

This report focuses on the relationship between child support and movement up the self-sufficiency employment ladder by mothers in the W-2 program.

IRP Discussion Papers and Reprints

Below we list only Discussion Papers issued in 2005. There exist many earlier IRP Discussion Papers and Reprints dealing with child support. They can be identified, and full texts of many can be retrieved, through the IRP Publications Database.

Can Administrative Data on Child Support Be Used to Improve the EITC? Evidence from Wisconsin
V. Joseph Hotz and John Karl Scholz, November 2005 (DP 1310-05)

The Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) is the largest cash or near-cash U.S. antipoverty program, but a large fraction of its payments appear to go to taxpayers who are not eligible for the credit. The most common problem has been that EITC-qualifying children failed to live for at least six months with the taxpayer claiming the child. The 1997 and 2001 federal budget bills thus mandated use of the Federal Case Registry of child support orders (FCR) to improve the accuracy of the child support and tax systems. This paper examines the effects of these changes on EITC compliance and participation.

Multiple-Partner Fertility: Incidence and Implications for Child Support Policy
D. R. Meyer, M. Cancian, and S. Cook, May 2005 (DP 1300-05)

The article shows that family complexity resulting from multiple-partner fertility is quite common, and provides the first comprehensive documentation of levels of family complexity among a broad sample of welfare recipients. Multiple-partner fertility has important implications for understanding child support outcomes and for designing and evaluating welfare and family policy.

Child Support in the United States: An Uncertain and Irregular Income Source?
M. Cancian and D. R. Meyer, April 2005 (DP 1298-05)

The U.S. emphasis on private rather than public responsibility for the support of children raises several questions concerning the adequacy and distribution of child support. Using detailed administrative records, the authors analyze child support receipts Wisconsin from 2000 to 2003. They find that most mothers with child support orders receive support, but that the amount received varies substantially from year to year and there is substantial instability within years.

Knowledge of Child Support Policy Rules: How Little We Know
M. Cancian, D. R. Meyer, and K. Nam, April 2005 (DP 1297-05)

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.

Other Publications

Focus Vol. 21:1, Spring 2000, is a special issue devoted entirely to research on child support. Articles cover a number of policy-related topics, among them the development, scope, and consequences of state and federal enforcement efforts, and whether enforcement is likely to make a difference in the relationship between absent parents and their children. Also covered are results of experimental efforts to improve the capacity of absent, low-income fathers to support their children, and perspectives on child support policy in England and Europe as compared to U.S. policies.

Fathers Under Fire: The Revolution in Child Support Enforcement
Irwin Garfinkel, Sara S. McLanahan, Daniel R. Meyer, and Judith A. Seltzer, editors
(New York: Russell Sage Foundation, 1998.)

Much of the uncertainty surrounding child support policies has stemmed from a lack of hard data on nonresident fathers. Fathers under Fire presents a full body of information on the financial and social circumstances of these men. Social scientists and legal scholars explore the underlying issues of child support and the potential risks and benefits of stronger enforcement policies.