University of Wisconsin–Madison
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Child Support in an Economic Downturn: Changes in Earnings, Child Support Orders, and Payments

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.


Child Support, Child Support Policy Research, Employment, Orders & Payments, Unemployment/Nonemployment, WI Administrative Data Core


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