Child Support Digest (Volume 1, Number 1)
NCSL Child Support Project
Welcome to the first edition of the Child Support Digest, a quarterly publication of the National Conference of State Legislatures’ Child Support project. The Digest will cover current trends in child support and include summaries of state legislative action, news articles, the latest research and other upcoming events and resources related to child support policy. The Digest is part of a larger project on child support enforcement that is funded by the federal Office of Child Support Enforcement. For previous and future editions, visit our Child Support Digest Index.
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The National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL) was awarded a contract with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Child Support Enforcement focused on child support enforcement and innovative strategies to collect reliable and consistent support on behalf of children. The project supports NCSL’s efforts to provide information to state legislators about the role of child support as a critical component of family self-sufficiency and current trends and innovations in child support policy.
NCSL is creating an online clearinghouse for state legislators with resources on child support policy, financing, laws, research and promising practices. Staff will also be able to provide technical assistance to states, including testimony or other presentations; written research and analysis and facilitated conversations among child support stakeholders in your state.
NCSL staff Jack Tweedie, Rochelle Finzel, Katie Mason and Emily De Yoe are available to answer any child support questions and to discuss ways in which NCSL can support your legislature in addressing any concerns in your child support system. You may contact Jack, Rochelle and Katie directly at Jack.Tweedie@ncsl.org, Rochelle.Finzel@ncsl.org, or Katie.Mason@ncsl.org. Alzata Ross is the Office of Child Support Enforcement Project Officer; please do not hesitate to contact her at Alzata.Ross@acf.hhs.gov if you have questions.
Policy Trend: Family-Centered Child Support Services
Nationwide, the child support program serves one quarter of all US children and half of all children in low-income families. Child support is one of the largest sources of income support and is shown to reduce child poverty, promote parental responsibility and improve children's educational outcomes. Child support agencies serve these children and their families, often for extended periods from infancy to the age of majority, and are using many strategies to assist families beyond just collecting support payments.
Family-Centered Service Model
Like the child health and welfare systems, the child support program is using family-centered services to improve child support outcomes. Family-centered practice emphasizes individualized, culturally-responsive and relevant services to build the capacity of families to attain goals they set for themselves.
Family-centered services may be formal or informal and can be provided by the child support enforcement agency or other state agencies, organizations and groups, including workforce centers, community-based programs, schools, and faith-based groups.
State Use of the Model
State child support programs have found that using a family-centered services model can increase the reliability of child support payments, especially for low-income families. Specifically, child support programs are emphasizing employment for noncustodial parents, encouraging cooperation between parents and strengthening parents’ emotional connection with their children. States are also developing policies to prevent the need for child support enforcement, engage fathers from the birth of their child, promote family economic stability, help build healthy family relationships, ensure that families have meaningful health care coverage and prevent and reduce family violence.
The Evolving Program
The family-centered service model engages all parties and shifts from strictly debt-driven enforcement remedies to identifying and addressing the unique needs of each family. This type of engagement with parents can assist in addressing the underlying reasons why some parents do not pay. Automated child support systems can be used to detect noncompliance in payments as early as possible and in some cases notify noncustodial parents about late payments before enforcement actions are taken. State policymakers are supporting this type of service model by implementing policies that ensure child support orders are based on current earnings, reduce child support debt, and allow early intervention to modify orders when noncustodial parents cannot make payments.
Vermont SB101 (2011) reduces the surcharge on past-due child support from 1% to one-half of one percent or an annual rate of 6 percent. It also creates a working group to examine ways to help obligors comply with orders; the use of contempt; arrears; license suspension; presumptive orders; age of majority and feasibility of a family problem-solving court (Enacted- Act No. 30).
New Mexico HM 71 (2011) requests the state bar to convene a task force to study how to incorporate a child's post-secondary education into the determination of child support obligation. A family court judge chairs the task force. The task force consists of lawyers that practice in the area of divorce and family law as well as other professionals that work in related fields. The task force was required to report to the legislature with an interim report by November 2011, and is required to submit a final report by November 2012.
Maine LD 1650 (2012) allows a child support obligor receiving public assistance to keep receiving public assistance and ensures that they do not lose benefits based on a lump sum payment when the lump sum payment is intercepted and used to pay past-due child support (Enacted- Public Law No. 550).
NCSL can provide technical assistance to legislatures on child support policy topics. Contact Rochelle Finzel at firstname.lastname@example.org.
NCSL Child Support Resources:
NCSL Child Support and Family Law Legislation Database
Please visit our Child Support and Family Law Legislation Database that tracks the actions of state legislatures related to child support policy. This database has been used by state legislators, legislative staff, the media and the public since it was launched in early 2012. It includes both carry-over measures from 2011 legislative sessions and legislation introduced in 2012.
Topic Article Resources:
Promoting Child Well-Being & Family Self-Sufficiency Fact Sheet Series
Child Support Project Partner News
NCSL collaborates with the Federal Office of Child Support Enforcement. Recent resources available from OCSE on child support topics include the following.
Child Support Report, July 2012, Vol. 34, No. 7
Child Support Report, June 2012, Vol. 34, No. 6
Child Support Report, May 2012, Vol. 34, No. 5
Child Support Report, April 2012, Vol. 34, No. 4
Child Support Report, March 2012, Vol. 34, No. 3
Chiild Support Report, February 2012, Vol. 34, No. 2
Child Support Report, January 2012, Vol. 34, No. 1
Administration for Children and Families Information Memoradum
The Administration for Children and Families released an information memorandum on August 1 providing information to state child support and child welfare agencies about several topics related to how the programs can improve their work. Specifically, it addresses requests for location services, referrals for child support services for children receiving Title IV-E payments, applications for child support for children not receiving Title IV-E payments, domestic violence prevention and the family violence indicator, state child support system codes and automated data exchange. For more information, please visit Requests for Locate Services, Referrals, and Electronic Interface between Child Welfare and Child Support Information Systems.
In the News
Funding renewed for child support court- May 23, 2012
Judge Ben Burkemper announced that the Missouri Supreme Court’s Family Court Committee awarded $25,000 to continue the Lincoln County Child Support Court program. Child Support Court is an alternative court program that aims to capture unpaid child support dollars while simultaneously reducing state money spent on prosecuting and incarcerating noncustodial parents who owe child support. Judge Burkemper first organized the court to address the need for a diversion program in the spring of 2011 to capture several millions of dollars in back child support owed to the children of Lincoln County.
Kentucky Budget Cuts May Delay Arrival of Child Support- June 7, 2012
Kentucky is reducing funding to child support enforcement across the state. In Hopkins County, the cuts will mean a 12 percent reduction in funding. The reductions may cause layoffs and could slow the delivery of child support to families. The budget cuts went into effect in June.
Child Support Prevention
Healthy Marriage Interventions: A Boom or a Bust?- May 22, 2012
A study published by a Binghamton University researcher in American Psychologist found that healthy marriage education programs are not working. Researchers collected data from White and middle-class marriages to design the programs and then applied the programs to poor couples or couples of color. Researchers believe that the government needs to adopt a more multifaceted approach: focus on programs that will ease the stress of poor families and at the same time, fund more rigorous basic research.
Generation Unwed Motherhood- June 11, 2012
Generation Y (Millennials)—those Americans in their late teens, 20s, and early 30s—are thought to take a lackadaisical approach to relationships, marriage, and childbearing. This approach is influencing American culture and is expected to have an even greater impact in future decades as Generation Y makes up more of the business, cultural, and political worlds. The increases in non-marital births during the 20th century and unwed motherhood—and absent fatherhood—are having an economic and cultural impact on the United States. Single parent or cohabiting households are creating instability in society, particularly for children.
Paternity In Texas: Are You Really The Father?- April 27, 2012
A significant aspect of paternity is the statutory imposition of support obligations on fathers. Recent changes to the Texas statutes now permit a man who has been mistakenly identified as the father of a child to legally terminate the father-child relationship. The statute gives the alleged father one year after he has learned he is not the child's father to end the relationship legally. For the father, this order is the only way to stop child support payments.
State taking new fees out of child support payments- May 15, 2012
The Texas Attorney General’s Child Support Division takes $300 million to run a year. The division will enforce new state fees that they will collect from child support payments. In 2011, it cost the state $13.1 million dollars to run the State Disbursement Unit (SDU). In the past, the state used tax dollars and federal funds to support the system. Due to the state budget deficit, the state legislature authorized the division to collect the fee from custodial parents. The cost is $3 for every payment that goes through the SDU. After just eight months in place, the $3 fee has resulted in more than $2.2 million. The division may also charge parents who have full service cases with the division, receive $500 in child support and have never received Temporary Assistance for Needy Families. That fee is $25 annually and federal law requires the collection of the fee.
Department of Public Welfare Honored for Innovative Technology that Connects Vulnerable Children with Needed Child Support- June 11, 2012
Pennsylvania developed a new computer application that has earned national recognition. The state Child Support Enforcement Bureau developed the software to assist county caseworkers in identifying parents who are at a greater risk of not paying child support. Pennsylvania is the only U.S. state to have a predictive modeling solution implemented in this way for child support enforcement. Early identification is a successful tool used to help parents meet their financial obligations. For example, the county caseworker can follow a prescribed series of steps to help prevent a payment from becoming delinquent, including rapid follow-up conferencing, phone call reminders, expedited enforcement conferences and mandatory job searches.
Morgan program puts inmates to work to pay child support, make up bad checks- July 4, 2012
Seven inmates in the Morgan County Jail (Tennessee) on finance-related charges (such as not paying child support) are now working and paying what they owe. Community Corrections implemented a work-release program where inmates are averaging about $8.65 an hour. When they are not working, they are confined to the jail. Since the program started, inmates have paid $11,000 to $15,000 in child support, fines and court fees.
Healthy Family Relationships
Hennepin County tries problem-solving court for never-married parents- May 2, 2012
In 2010, Judge Bruce Peterson, Hennepin County Family Court, and a team of partners created the Co-Parent Court using federal, county and foundation money. Similar to drug courts and DWI courts, Co-Parent Court is the county's first problem-solving court in the family court arena. Never-married parent participants are offered help from community agencies to find employment or deal with domestic violence, addictions or mental health problems. Parents are required to participate in four weekly sessions on co-parenting. Classes may review bad habits parents can develop. Attendance is 80 percent, which is much better than projected. Mothers and fathers meet in separate groups before each pair comes back together to write a plan. Judge Peterson signs off on the plans.
Fathers who fail costly for families, economies, but dads can bounce back- May 11, 2012
Fathers who are not involved with their children are costly to the United States economy—both monetarily and in terms of human capital. More than 2 million American kids have a parent in prison and many more than that have had a parent (most often a father) in jail. Parental incarceration disrupts the lives of children and often leads to forced displacement to different caregivers. The kids are more likely to be in poverty, to see parental substance abuse, perform poorly at school, exhibit problem behaviors and have mental health and substance abuse issues.
Minimum child support agreements don't violate public policy if limited in duration- April 3, 2012
The Wisconsin Supreme Court clarified that parties can enter child support agreements that set minimum floor payments for up to 33 months, but circuit courts can still use their equitable powers to modify those agreements under certain circumstances. The Court of Appeals certified the case to the Wisconsin Supreme Court, which recently affirmed the circuit court in May v. May, 2012 WI 35 (April 3, 2012), by a 6-1 vote. The Wisconsin Supreme Court explained that child support stipulations and agreements should generally be upheld when parties freely and knowingly enter agreements, the stipulations are fair and equitable, and the stipulations do not violate public policy considerations.
About This NCSL Project
NCSL staff in D.C. and Denver can provide comprehensive, thorough, and timely information on critical child support policy issues. We provide services to legislators and staff working to improve state policies affecting children and their families. The Denver-based child support project staff focuses on state policy, tracking legislation and providing research and policy analysis, consultation, and technical assistance specifically geared to the legislative audience. Denver staff can be reached at (303) 364-7700 or email@example.com.
NCSL staff in Washington, D.C. track and analyze federal legislation and policy and represent state legislatures on child support issues before Congress and the Administration. In D.C., Sheri Steisel and Emily Wengrovius can be reached at (202) 624-5400 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
The child support project and D.C. human services staff receive guidance and support from NCSL's Human Services and Welfare Standing Committee.