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Challenges and Opportunities for Engaging Noncustodial Parents in Employment and Other Services

This report, completed as part of the research agreement between the Bureau of Child Support (BCS) and researchers at the Institute for Research on Poverty (IRP), examines approaches to overcoming barriers to compliance with formal child support obligations. Child support agencies have historically been specific in mandate and narrow in scope, focused on initiating new child support orders and enforcing existing orders on behalf of children living apart from a parent. However, in recognition that many noncustodial parents who do not meet their child support obligations face employment and other barriers to compliance, some agencies have embarked on a new approach to child support services, with an increased focus on identifying barriers to compliance and providing services to help noncustodial parents overcome them. The Office of Child Support Enforcement (OCSE)’s Child Support Noncustodial Parent Employment Demonstration (CSPED), implemented in Wisconsin and seven other states from 2012 through 2017, is a large-scale example of a recent effort taking such an approach. Within Wisconsin, counties have also sought to leverage resources intended to help noncustodial parents overcome barriers.

The purpose of this report is three-fold. First, the report describes barriers to noncustodial parent compliance with formal child support orders, as identified through interviews conducted for the CSPED evaluation and for the Child Support Policy Research Agreement (Vogel, 2019). Next, the report describes services provided to noncustodial parents, primarily drawing on the experience of CSPED programs, in Wisconsin and in other CSPED grantees. Finally, we estimate the quantitative association between noncustodial parent barriers to compliance with formal support obligations and noncustodial parent participation in services intended to help them overcome these barriers.

Overall, this research finds that an array of factors make it difficult for noncustodial parents to comply with formal support obligations, including limited employment opportunities, low wages, and obligations across multiple families. Child support enforcement practices, and noncustodial parent experiences with the child support system, also contribute to noncustodial parents’ ability and willingness to comply with formal support obligations. The complexity and multiplicity of these barriers implies that a multifaceted programmatic approach might be necessary to facilitate engagement in services and compliance with obligations. We identify potential policy implications of these findings, as well as programmatic supports and resources for future consideration.


Child Support, Child Support Policy Research, CSPED, Enforcement, Orders & Payments, WI Administrative Data Core


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