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Experiences, Characteristics, and Service Needs of Noncustodial Parents with Challenges Meeting Child Support Obligations: Evidence from ELEVATE Parents

This report is the third of three deliverables associated with Task 14 of the 2022–2024 Child Support Policy Research Agreement (CSPRA): “Researching New Approaches to Child Support Services.” Federal and state initiatives suggest growing interest in providing supportive services for noncustodial parents (NCPs) who face challenges in meeting their child support obligations. Yet, this population of parents is often underrepresented in large-scale surveys, and evidence about their employment history, economic resources, physical and mental health, and service needs is limited.

This report aims to provide a holistic and nuanced understanding of parent experiences, which may inform development of effective programming to support these parents and their families. It draws on data from the baseline survey completed by participants who enrolled in Wisconsin Wisconsin’s Empowering Lives through Education, Vocational Assessment, Training, and Employment (ELEVATE) program. ELEVATE is an innovative pilot program funded via a Section 1115 waiver from the federal Office of Child Support Services (OCSS). It designed to provide case management, enhanced child support, employment and parenting services to noncustodial parents who were behind or at risk of falling behind in their child support obligations.

This report finds that parents who enrolled in ELEVATE experienced many barriers to employment and meeting child support obligations. The most commonly reported barriers to employment included transportation, unstable housing, and having a history of arrest or incarceration. In addition, parents experienced high levels of economic hardship, and some had health-related challenges, including nearly one-third who met the clinical cut-off for depression. The size of parents’ legal obligations for child support relative to their earnings and household resources likely also prevented them from meeting these obligations: parents reported owing, on average, around $420 each month in formal child support.

Despite these barriers, parents reported supporting their children financially and having strong relationships with their children. The majority of parents reported providing informal or in-kind support for their child over the last month, and many reported high levels of contact with their children (including 29.3% with a resident child).

Some parents reported receiving services in the month prior to program enrollment, though many did not. Parents also reported mixed feelings about the child support program. While many felt they had a clear contact or someone who could help them, many did not feel that child support had improved their relationships with their children or their children’s other parents. Parents reported a variety of strengths upon which to draw, including strong ties to their children, and service providers can build on these to ensure families and economically disadvantaged parents have the support they need to provide for their children and themselves.


Child Support, Child Support Policy Research, Employment, Enforcement, Orders & Payments, Unemployment/Nonemployment


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