Child Support Arrears and Related Policy

IRP Reports

Jennifer L. Noyes, Maria Cancian, and Laura Cuesta, 2012 [Report | PowerPoint Presentation]
Carolyn Heinrich, Brett Burkhardt, Hilary Shager, and Lara Rosen, 2011 [PowerPoint Presentation]

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.

David Pate, 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.

Katherine A. Magnuson, 2006

This report considers 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. In 2002, at the time of the first survey, all couples had just had a child, and yearly data collection continued until the child was approximately 3 or 4 years old. The author considers the amount of money and goods that fathers provided for their noncustodial children from two perspectives.

Jennifer L. Noyes, 2006

In this report the author 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.

Ingrid E. Rothe, Yoonsook Ha, and Marya Sosulski, 2004

Over the past twenty years the child support system has undergone significant changes, fueled partly by state efforts to increase collections and partly by new requirements set by the federal government. Among these changes is an expanded set of tools designed to improve the enforcement of child support orders. The authors of this paper interviewed local officials and analyzed administrative data from the Wisconsin child support information system (known as KIDS) to better understand how the new techniques are implemented by county child support agencies and whether they contribute to increased child support collections.

Officials in four county child support agencies (Chippewa, Eau Claire, Racine, and Winnebago) were interviewed to determine how county staff make decisions about what enforcement actions to take and when to act. The four counties exhibited marked differences in organization of the enforcement process, many of which appeared to stem from differences in such factors as access to court time and relationship with other county agencies. In two counties staff members worked as teams and in the other two they worked as individuals. Similarly, in two counties they were specialists in particular enforcement actions and in two they were generalists who performed many different types of actions.

Maria Cancian, Robert Haveman, Daniel R. Meyer, and Barbara Wolfe, 2003

The authors use administrative data from Wisconsin to compare employment, earnings, and income outcomes for welfare leavers under early AFDC reforms and under the later, more stringent TANF program. We consider outcomes for women leaving welfare in 1999, updating an earlier analysis of those who left welfare in 1995 and 1997. We find substantially higher rates of exit in the later periods. Later leavers are somewhat more likely to work, but their earnings are lower. We also make a pre-post comparison of individual employment and income experiences, examining a leaver’s outcomes during a calendar quarter of welfare receipt with these outcomes a year after leaving welfare.

On average, substantial earnings growth is outweighed by declines in benefits, resulting in reduced total measured net income. The reductions in income from before to after exit are greater for those in the 1995 cohort relative to those in the 1997 and 1999 cohorts.

Judith Bartfeld, 2003

Child support arrearages have become an issue of increasing public policy concern. This concern reflects the magnitude of such arrears, the growing awareness of the complex factors that contribute to arrears accumulation, and the possibility that arrears may have detrimental impacts on child support agencies, noncustodial parents, and custodial parents and children. Concern about the scope of arrears, and the associated negative consequences, has led to increasing interest in the potential of public policy to provide remedies. This report considers one general policy approach to reducing child support arrears that have already accrued, the forgiveness of arrears owed to the state. The report provides an overview of the magnitude of arrears, the factors that contribute to arrears, and the problems stemming from high arrears.

Judi Bartfeld, 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).

IRP Discussion Papers

Harry J. Holzer, 2007

The enormous increases in incarceration that have occurred in the U.S. over the past few decades have no doubt generated major societal benefits-such as a likely reduction in crime-as well as major costs-such as the huge public expense of building and operating prisons. In addition, there are a range of "collateral" benefits and costs to the individuals who are incarcerated, their families/communities, and others that need to be considered. In this paper, the author reviews what is known about the collateral costs and benefits of incarceration on earnings and employment. He then explores the different studies on this topic, focusing on the data sources and empirical methods used, and on the magnitudes of the effects generated. The author argues that, while the credible empirical evidence is quite mixed, the preponderance of it points to negative effects of incarceration on the subsequent employment and earnings of offenders. He concludes the paper by asserting that the large costs on employment associated with current levels of incarceration need to be acknowledged and addressed through remedial policy and programmatic activity.

Harry J. Holzer, Paul Offner, and Elaine Sorensen, 2004

In this paper, we document the continuing decline in employment and labor force participation of black men between the ages of 16 and 34 who have a high school education or less. We explore the extent to which these trends can be accounted for in recent years by two fairly new developments: (1) the dramatic growth in the number of young black men who have been incarcerated and (2) strengthened enforcement of child support policies. We use micro-level data from the Current Population Survey Outgoing Rotation Groups, along with state-level data over time on incarceration rates and child support enforcement, to test these hypotheses. Our results indicate that post-incarceration effects and child support policies both contribute to the decline in employment activity among young black less-educated men in the last two decades, especially among those aged 25-34.