Swimming Upstream: Child Support Enforcement & Nonresident Parents’ Contributions to Children
(Family and Child Policy)
*Names in bold indicate Presenter
The goal of the child support enforcement system is to ensure that children receive support from their nonresident parents; however, despite decades of policy focus, a number of demographic and economic trends have made this goal more difficult to achieve. Today, fewer than half of custodial parents receive the child support that is owed them and nearly 40% of children in single-parent families are poor. The four papers in this panel examine the difficulties and complexities facing the child support enforcement system from a variety of perspectives.
The first paper focuses on family complexity, specifically when parents have children with new partners. Now quite common, this demographic change has created particular challenges for child support enforcement in making decisions about how to fairly allocate nonresident parents’ resources. This paper examines how child support systems across 12 European countries have attempted to address this challenge. They take a unique and innovative approach based on vignette data collected across countries, allowing for the comparison of responses in the context of differing policy regimes, population characteristics, and cultural norms.
The second paper explores the accumulation of child support arrears in the US, which has grown to $114 billion, of which a large proportion is owed by nonresident parents with very low incomes, suggesting that this debt is largely uncollectable. This paper links 15 years of state by year data on 10 specific child support policies with longitudinal survey data on urban families to explore which individual policies and which combinations of policies are most closely associated with arrears accumulation.
The third paper reports on the effects of a national intervention which aimed to increase child support payments among nonresident parents who had fallen behind. Nonresident parents were randomly assigned to receive specialized services to improve their ability to make payments or usual child support services. The very mixed results of the intervention point to the difficulties that many nonresident parents face in making regular child support payments and have important implications for child support enforcement policies.
The final paper, using data on nonresident parents who have child support debt, explores these parents’ provision of informal cash and in-kind support to their children. Interestingly, they find that provision of these types of voluntary support is quite high, even as these parents have fallen behind (or continue to fall behind) on their formal child support payments. These results suggest that perhaps it is time for policymakers to consider the inclusion of these types of voluntary provisions in calculations of child support obligations and payments.
This panel brings together a diverse group of junior and senior-level scholars from 7 different public and private universities in the US, Europe, and Latin America, as well as policy and research practitioners from government and research organizations. Results from all four of these papers will provide innovative ideas to address the continuing challenges faced by the child support enforcement system in ensuring support for children with nonresident parents.