Child Support Digest (Volume 1, Number 2)
NCSL Child Support Project
Welcome to the Child Support Digest, a quarterly publication of the National Conference of State Legislatures’ Child Support project. The digest covers current trends in child support and includes 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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Register Now! Child Support 101 Webinar on Nov. 27
On Tuesday, Nov. 27, NCSL is hosting a Child Support 101 webinar. Open to anyone, this webinar will help participants to learn more about the child support process, including strategies to increase collections and help more children. Visit Child Support 101 Webinar to register or to view the archived version of the webinar.
Join us in DC at our Fall Forum Workshop: Helping Dads Help their Kids: New Ways to Increase Child Support Collections"
On Dec. 7, the NCSL Human Services and Welfare Committee is hosting the above session at NCSL's Fall Forum. The session will focus on state policies and programs that help fathers meet their child support obligations and stay involved in their children's lives.
Policy Trend: Providing Employment Services to Noncustodial Parents
Nationwide, the child support program serves one quarter of all U.S. children and half of all U.S. children in poor families, a total of 17.5 million children. Child support is one of the largest sources of income for families. Research shows it reduces child poverty, promotes parental responsibility and involvement and improves children’s educational outcomes.
According to Urban Institute research from 2008, 80 percent of children in the child support program lived in households with incomes below 300 percent of poverty and one-third lived in households with incomes below the federal poverty line. At that time, 84 percent of all poor single-parent families participated in the child support program at some point while they were raising their kids, and child support comprised 40 percent of an average poor, female-headed family’s budget when the participating family received it.
The child support program is in regular contact with families putting it in a position to help noncustodial parents meet their child support obligations. The program can increase child support payments from low-income parents, particularly fathers, by positively engaging them from the birth of their children; encouraging them to continue being involved in their children’s lives; and helping them overcome obstacles to supporting their children. Children usually receive reliable support when:
The noncustodial parent has a stable job.
Child support is withheld directly from the parent’s paycheck.
The parent has sufficient income to comply with the support order.
The money is paid to the family, instead of kept by the state to repay public assistance benefits.
The parent maintains ties with the child.
Employment is key. When noncustodial parents do not have jobs, child support is often not paid reliably. Nationally, over 25 percent of noncustodial parents have limited or no earnings. They often face multiple barriers to work, including limited education and job skills, intermittent work history and a history of incarceration. These individuals owe 70 percent of child support arrears, and they do not have stable jobs.
Researchers and state agency staff are finding that more effective strategies exist that increase the likelihood that parents can pay. State agencies and policymakers are emphasizing:
Short- and medium-term strategies to increase reliable support.
Using data to select the right tools and services for the right person at the right time.
Iintervening early to get the parent on the right track and prevent debt build-up.
Some states have found success in providing employment services to noncustodial parents. The Texas and New York child support programs have conducted evaluations of their noncustodial parent employment programs. The programs focused on targeting unemployed noncustodial parents who were behind in their child support and often referred by the court. The agencies used a case management model that provided employment services including job placement and retention services. Furthermore, the models incorporated fatherhood and peer support resources.
Evaluations of the programs found significant positive effects on child support payments and employment that last over time. In Texas, Noncustodial Parent Choices participants were employed at 21 percent higher rates, paid their child support 47 percent more often, and paid support 50 percent more consistently. In New York, Strengthening Families through Stronger Fathers Initiative participants experienced a 19 percent increase in the likelihood of employment, earned an average of $986 more than nonparticipants, a 22 percent increase in earnings, and paid an average of $504 more than nonparticipants, a 38 percent increase in support payments.
Other states have also focused on these types of employment programs and have experienced success.
Vermont (SB 203) allows the court to order the parent obligated to pay support, referred to as the obligor, to perform a work search and report the results, and participate in an employment services program that includes referrals to employment opportunities, training, counseling, and other services. Act No. 2012-119
Maine (HB 179) allows the agency to consider the basic needs of the nonprimary care provider and to take those into account when establishing the parental support obligation. If their annual gross income is less than the federal poverty guideline, the weekly parental support may not exceed 10 percent of the weekly gross income, regardless of the amount of the parties' combined annual gross income. The law extends the order to one year from six months. This gives the nonprimary care provider enough money to meet their basic needs before they are required to pay child support. Public Law No. 2011-34
National Child Support Noncustodial Parent Demonstration Project
On Sept. 30, 2012, the Office of Child Support Enforcement (OCSE) awarded $6.2 million to eight state child support agencies to develop and implement programs that link noncustodial parents to employment services. Child support offices in the project states will provide:
Child support case management.
Employment-oriented services that include job placement and retention.
Fatherhood/parenting activities using peer support.
Enhanced child support procedures including the review and appropriate adjustment of child support orders.
By linking child support efforts with employment programs, the demonstration projects are expected to increase the number of parents paying child support, increase the financial support kids receive, facilitate better child-parent relationships, and reduce family dependence on public assistance.
The grantees for the noncustodial employment agencies include the Stanislaus County, Calif., Department of Social Services, the Colorado Department of Human Services, the Iowa Department of Human Services, the Stark County, Ohio, Department of Job and Family Services, the South Carolina Department of Social Services, the State of Tennessee, the Texas Office of the Attorney General and the Wisconsin Department of Children and Families.
For more information, please visit the FY 2012 OCSE Grant Awards page.
NCSL can provide technical assistance to legislatures on child support policy topics. Contact Rochelle Finzel.
NCSL Webinar: Child Support 101
NCSL is hosting a webinar on Tuesday, Nov. 27, 2012 at 2 p.m. EST to educate legislators about state child support programs. Vicki Turetsky, Office of Child Support Enforcement (OCSE) commissioner, will explain the basics of child support, how it works and how child support affects overall child well-being and a state legislator will explain how they got involved in child support, any legislation they may have sponsored and offer some tips for your legislative peers on how to get involved in child support issues. Visit Child Support 101 Webinar to register or to view the archived version of the webinar.
NCSL Fall Forum Session
The Human Services and Welfare Committee is conducting a session at NCSL's Fall Forum in Washington, D.C., on Friday, Dec. 7, 2012, from 10:30 a.m-Noon. "Helping Dads Help their Kids: New Ways to Increase Child Support Collections" will discuss state policies and programs that can increase the likelihood that dads can pay. It will also highlight community organizations that are working with fathers to help them meet their obligations and stay involved in their children’s lives.
NCSL Legislative Summit Recap
State legislators and legislative staff from across the country heard from Vicki Turetsky, OCSE commissioner, on the importance of child support on the well-being of children and the resulting public benefits. To view Turetsky's PowerPoint presentation, please visit Child Support: Beyond Enforcement to Engagement.
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:
Multi-Partner Fertility and Disadvantaged Families- Podcast, Institute for Research on Poverty, November 2012
How the Child Support System Affects Low-Income Fathers, NCSL, September 2012
Improving Child Support Outcomes through Employment Programs, OCSE, August 2012
Strenthening Families through Stronger Fathers, Urban Institute, October 2011
Economic Stability, OCSE, June 2011
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.
In the News
Child Support Prevention
Reforming divorce: Changing laws to preserve families, July 14, 2012
Divorce law reform advocates are trying to reduce divorce rates by slowing the divorce process. They would like to require that parents wait eight months to a year before a divorce would be final (except in cases of abuse). Along with waiting, these proposals also would require divorce education, most often provided through courts, including what to expect, the effects on children, the value of mediation and the reconciliation potential. In Maine, the waiting period for a divorce is 60 days. Along with the District of Columbia, 10 states have zero waiting periods, 29 states are less than six months, seven states are six months and five states have a waiting period of one year or longer. Nine of the 10 states with the highest divorce rates required no waiting. Of the 10 states with the lowest divorce rates, five required waiting.
Cohabitation statistics: Women having more babies out of wedlock, July 24, 2012
Data released by the National Center for Health Statistics show more than three-quarters of all births to married women were intended, compared with approximately half of births to cohabiting women and a third of births to women who are unmarried and not cohabiting. Unintended pregnancies include those that are both mistimed and unwanted. The number of births overall to cohabiting women increased from 14 percent of all births in 2002 to 23 percent in 2006-10.
America’s teenage-pregnancy rate has hit a 40-year low, July 28, 2012
According to a June 2012 report from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), between 1990 and 2008 the teenage-pregnancy rate dropped by 40 percent nationally. Nearly every state has seen a decline, as has every ethnic group. Better information, inside and outside the classroom, must be a factor, as well as teenagers themselves being more cautious.
Michigan Supreme Court gives child-support 'deadbeats' a defense, but sets bar high, Aug. 1, 2012
A divided Michigan Supreme Court ruled that parents accused of failing to pay child support can defend themselves against the felony charge by saying it is impossible to pay. The court gave "deadbeat" parents a window of opportunity to avoid criminal penalties when they do not pay but only in "exceptional circumstances" where they must prove that they have exhausted all their finances, including assets that could be sold. Three dissenting justices accused the majority of making Michigan the only state in country to not allow the more traditional defense of simply being unable to pay child support.
Law narrows paternity test window, Aug. 19, 2012
After Sept. 1, 2012, Texas men will have to file a petition to terminate the parent-child relationship within one year of discovering that they may not be the father. Fewer than 160 Texans have taken advantage of Senate Bill 785 since it took effect Sept. 1, 2011 (as of Aug. 19). The law does not cover three instances—if the child is now an adult; if the man filing the petition is the child’s adoptive father; and when the man never believed the child was his but ignored court proceedings establishing his paternity. The law allows the man who proves he is not the father to continue a relationship with the child. It also authorizes judges to include professional counseling as part of their court orders.
Whatever happened to the top 10 deadbeat parent list? Sept. 2, 2012
Massachusetts has discontinued producing a top deadbeat parents most-wanted-style poster, with the amount they owed their children emblazoned beneath a mug shot. The state last published the poster in 2009. State officials say that producing the list was not cost effective and was labor intensive.
Facebook, Other Social Media Coming Into Play in Child Support Cases, Sept. 8, 2012
Facebook, Twitter and other social media can be used as data-mining tools. Facebook and similar sites are being utilized in family-law cases. In a recent case, investigators filed a search warrant with Facebook, and used information from a noncustodial parent's own postings to track his location and fix his income. Social media evidence is a key part of hundreds of family law cases every year. Information can provide evidence of an individual's communications, location at a given time, specific actions and even state of mind. This information is not only useful in setting the amount of child support to be paid; it can also filter into other areas of a divorce or any family-law proceeding, such as custody schedules, property division and spousal maintenance.
Portage County creates position to help child support obligators find jobs, Sept. 3, 2012
In Portage County, Ohio, the Department of Job and Family Services recently initiated a new program by appointing the county’s first “child support employment service counselor” assigned specifically to work with unemployed child support obligators. The counselor has several tools at their disposal, including the ability to restore drivers and professional licenses. The counselor may also guide clients through the county’s employment training programs and try to help match them with employers. Portage County is paying for the new position out of its general budget, but if the program is successful in increasing child support payments, the county will see some return through a federal incentive program. The new program is in keeping with other changes being made at One-Stop, the county’s employment services program. Future referrals will come from the courts, or from child support enforcement employees who are in a position to know of cases.
Figures show struggle worsening for single mothers, Sept. 4, 2012
Forty-one percent of households headed by single women with children live in poverty, which is nearly triple the national poverty rate, according to 2010 census data. Low wages, limited public assistance and insufficient child care subsidies make it difficult for many single mothers to improve their lives. They are more likely than other poor people to face hardships such as food scarcity and eviction. Single mother poverty is drawing increasing concern because it means more children are living in poverty. Most poor children live with single mothers.
Parents Owing Child Support Avoid Jail (Not for Free), October 2012
The traditional solution for getting noncustodial parents to pay child support is to send them to court and then jail if the judge finds them in contempt. It is not always that parents do not want to pay their child support; it is often that they cannot. In Virginia, judges refer people facing jail time to the Intensive Case Monitoring Program. ICMP matches them up with a case manager who works with community partners to solve the problems keeping them from paying child support, such as the inability to secure steady work.
Program educates teen dads on being active parents, Oct. 14, 2012
The Oklahoma Parents as Teachers program has been recruiting teen fathers to educate them on being an active parent. Oklahoma Parents as Teachers focuses on attachment to a child through home visits, support groups and developmental screenings for the baby. State law contains provisions to encourage teen fathers to complete high school. Provisions also include calculating support at a lower rate for teens and considering extracurricular activities in the guidelines calculations. Those special allowances end when a teen parent graduates high school and hits 18. A judge approves child-support orders, which are calculated using several factors.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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 email@example.com.
The child support project and D.C. human services staff receive guidance and support from NCSL's Human Services and Welfare Standing Committee.