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Perceptions of Fair Treatment and Child Support

Previous research suggests that many noncustodial parents do not believe the child support agency is “on their side.” If problems with compliance come not only from noncustodial parents’ difficulties in paying the amount required, but also from their attitudes toward the child support agency, understanding attitudes may yield higher compliance. Research on the criminal justice system shows that even if individuals do not like the outcome of a judicial process, they are still more likely to comply with court decisions if they feel they were treated fairly in the process (procedural justice).

In this report, we first examine whether noncustodial parents believe they were treated fairly in the setting of their child support obligation; whether enhanced child support services are related to higher perceptions of fair treatment; and whether various principles of procedural justice can explain perceptions of fair treatment. We also explore whether those who report being treated fairly pay higher amounts of child support and comply more with their obligations. We use data from the follow-up surveys of Wisconsin’s Supporting Parents Supporting Kids (SPSK) program and equivalent programs in six other states that participated in Child Support Noncustodial Parent Employment Demonstration Evaluation (CSPED). We also use the SPSK and CSPED baseline surveys and administrative records of child support, public benefits, and national records of earnings and employment.

We find that the proportion of noncustodial parents who said that they were treated fairly is moderately high (65% among the Wisconsin sample and 61% in the seven CSPED states). Those randomly assigned to the extra-services group of SPSK and other equivalent CSPED programs were more likely to report fair treatment. Variables related to principles of procedural justice were related to perceptions of fair treatment. Among the Wisconsin sample, variables related to understanding and helpfulness were associated with higher perceptions of fair treatment; variables related to respect, neutrality, and voice were important in the full sample. We do not find that those who report fair treatment have higher child support  payments or compliance. However, in the two Wisconsin counties sampled here, non-Hispanic Blacks who report fair treatment do pay more overall and a higher proportion of their order, while non-Hispanic Whites do not. These results are only partially supported in other states.

Our findings that enhanced child support services increase perceptions of fair treatment highlights that expansions of SPSK could provide fairer services to parents. Also, although we do not see a relationship between perceived fair treatment and child support outcomes for the sample as a whole, our subgroup analysis suggests that if fair treatment can be achieved for a historically disadvantaged group, higher payments may follow.


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


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