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Child Support Debt: Tracing the Evolution of the Problem and Implications for Policy Solutions

Child support enforcement has been strengthened and routinized over the past decades at the federal and state levels. Nonetheless, the amount of unpaid child support remains a major concern. In FY 2010, the total amount of child support arrears due nationally was over $110 billion (OCSE, 2011). High child support arrears are recognized as a major policy problem for families and for the child support enforcement system. While the importance of arrears is increasingly recognized by researchers and policy makers, relatively little is known about patterns of arrears accumulation and factors associated with different patterns.

This study documents patterns of arrears accumulation and identifies factors associated with different patterns of arrears accumulation or reduction. In particular, building on previous research, it examines how child support arrears accumulation is associated with various measures of noncustodial parent employment. The analysis reveals a divergent pattern of arrears accumulation: while some fathers who accumulate arrears in the earlier period pay down their arrears, many fathers continue to rapidly accumulate arrears. The findings suggest that earlier intervention could be particularly effective, and that child support policy may need to find ways to accommodate the economic challenges facing fathers in order to help them fulfill their obligations.


Arrears & Related Policy, Child Support, Child Support Policy Research, Employment, Employment General, WI Administrative Data Core


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