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.