Child Support Digest (Volume 1, Number 3)
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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Save the Date
The NCSL 2013 Spring Forum will take place in sunny Denver, Colo., May 2-4. In addition to developing policies that direct NCSL's advocacy efforts on behalf of the states, standing committees will address challenging issues such as health reform, fiscal cliff analysis, education standards and more.
Policy Trend: Setting Realistic or “Right-Sized” Orders to Improve Child Support Payments
Establishing child support orders that are realistic, meaning they are based on the noncustodial parent’s actual ability to pay, results in higher compliance and can increase parent-child interaction. Research also shows that setting a realistic child support order improves the chances that child support payments will continue over time.
Payment reliability and compliance is important for all families, but especially for poorer families for whom child support represents a significant proportion of income. When families do not receive the full amount of support due to them, they may turn to other public assistance programs, such as Temporary Assistance to Needy Families, Medicaid, CHIP and other supports from state government. Consistent child support payments are integral to helping custodial parents and children attain economic stability.
A key factor in setting realistic orders is parental involvement. Child support payments are more consistent when the noncustodial parent is involved in order establishment and provides the necessary financial information. Parental engagement also has a positive effect on future participation in the life of his or her child or children.
The amount of the order relative to income also matters. Research has found that parents are more likely to make consistent payments when the child support amount is 20 percent of earnings or less. Research shows that low earning noncustodial parents are often simply not able to pay the ordered level of child support, especially when the order is set too high relative to earnings.
Evidence has shown the following tools and strategies can result in more realistic orders and greater compliance.
Obtaining accurate income information from both parents: Accurate income and asset information based on the current earnings is important for the court or administrative agency to set the order at an amount that meets the noncustodial parent’s ability to pay.
Limiting the use of imputed income: Imputing income, the method used to assign an income to determine the order, can often lead to high arrears. Imputed income is used when the court believes the parent’s testimony regarding reported income is false; the evidence of the parent’s income and the parent’s actual income does not meet his or her demonstrated earnings; or a decrease in income is voluntary. At a minimum, income is imputed to equal the amount earned from a full-time job earning minimum wage. Even this amount can be unrealistic for some parents.
Minimizing the use of default orders: Default orders are used in cases where the noncustodial parent fails to appear or does not provide sufficient financial information. In these cases, the noncustodial parent is not involved and may result in an income and resulting order amount that is not realistic. The practice of default orders varies greatly among states. Default orders are often based on imputed income.
Developing appropriate guidelines for low-income parents: Ensuring guidelines take into consideration the circumstances facing low-income parents can increase compliance. States take three approaches to setting child support amounts for very low-income parents:
Setting a minimum presumptive amount establishes a certain minimum award amount, often $50 per month per child that can be rebutted downward.
A mandatory minimum award that cannot be deviated downward and a specific dollar amount must be established.
Other states allow the judge discretion to determine the amount of support.
Providing enhanced case management services: Increased contact and interaction with case workers to help parents understand the child support process also leads to better payment compliance and parental engagement. States implementing enhanced case management services experience increased efficiency of the order establishment process, reduced numbers of cases with imputed income and fewer default orders.
Increasing the review and modification of orders: Reviewing and modifying orders so they are based on the ability to pay ensures better compliance with paying support. Approximately 20 states have developed specific modification assistance or review and adjustment programs. States are taking advantage of improved technology and automation to target specific populations that might need modifications to adjust for changing circumstances.
Setting realistic orders not only increases a parent’s ability to pay but is also shown to increase overall parent engagement in their child’s life. There are a variety of evidence-based strategies states can use to make sure orders are realistic and parents are involved in the process.
During the 2012 session, the following states passed legislation to address employment concerns, ability to pay and setting realistic orders.
Ohio SB 337 (Session Law 131) adds several different provisions concerning judicial discretion. The bill allows a court to grant limited driving privileges to a person whose license was suspended because of nonpayment of child support. Additionally, the bill prevents a court or agency from determining that a parent is voluntarily unemployed if: (1) the parent is receiving income under the disability program, means tested public aid, means tested veteran's benefits, or supplemental security income; or (2) parent is incarcerated or institutionalized for 12 months or more with no assets available, unless incarcerated for an offense where the child owed the support was the victim. The bill allows a court to disregard additional income from overtime or additional employment if the overtime or employment was to support a new family member or other reasonable cause. Lastly, it requires the court to consider all support orders against a party to create a realistic payment plan.
Vermont SB 203 (Act 2012-119) amends the calculation of income in determining child support. It permits the court to order an obligor to participate in employment, educational, or training related activities if participation in such activities would assist in providing support for a child or in addressing the causes of the default. A court may order payment of all or a portion of the unpaid financial obligation as a purge condition; if the court finds that the person has the present ability to pay the amount ordered and sets a date certain for payment. The law addresses the fact that receipt of means-tested public assistance benefits or incarceration for more than 90 days shall be considered a real, substantial, and unanticipated change of circumstances that permits the court to consider a modification of an existing child support order. It also permits referral of child support contemnors to reparative boards.
NCSL can provide technical assistance to legislatures on child support policy topics. Contact Rochelle Finzel.
New NCSL Webinar
On March 15, 2013, NCSL will present a webinar about child support concerns for military families and custody issues for deployed or deploying military personnel. The webinar will share details about Texas’s "HEROES for Children in Military Families" and El Paso County, Colorado’s child support military liaisons. The webinar will also feature a legislator’s perspective relating to military families, custody and child support. Visit our Web page to register for the webinar or to view the webinar archive
NCSL Webinar Recording: Child Support 101
Vicki Turetsky, Office of Child Support Enforcement (OCSE) commissioner, explained the basics of child support, how it works and how child support affects overall child well-being and former state Representative Linda Gray, Arizona, explained her experience with child support legislation and policy. Visit Child Support 101 Webinar to view the archived webinar or the webinar PowerPoint.
NCSL Fall Forum Session PowerPoints: "Helping Dads Help Their Kids"
The NCSL session, "Helping Dads Help their Kids: New Ways to Increase Child Support Collections" focused on state policies and programs that can increase the likelihood that dads can pay. It will also highlighted community organizations that are working with fathers to help them meet their obligations and stay involved in their children’s lives. Visit "Helping Dads Help their Kids: New Ways to Increase Child Support Collections" to view the PowerPoints.
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. It includes measures from the 2012 legislative sessions and legislation introduced in 2013.
Topic Article Resources:
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 agency cleaning up its act, audit says- Nov. 26, 2012
The Maryland Child Support Enforcement Administration has made strides in fixing internal problems and increasing the collection of child support owed, according to a new report from the Office of Legislative Audits. In 2011, an audit of the Child Support Enforcement Administration found that from 2007 to 2010 the amount of unpaid child support in the state totaled $1.72 billion and that not all available tools were being used to collect the delinquent money. During that time, the administration collected $530 million from those owing child support. The follow-up report found that the administration had completed many of the recommendations of the Office of Legislative Audits or was making significant progress on them. The administration still has not completed all of the recommendations in the audit. The agency has worked with other state agencies to suspend drivers and professional licenses and intercepted tax refunds or lottery winnings — all recommendations in the 2011 audit report.
United States: State Law As To Unemployment Insurance Collections Relative To Child Support Overpayments Now Aligned With Federal Law- Dec. 20, 2012
The Louisiana Department of Children and Family Services is authorized by law to intercept, encumber, freeze, or seize unemployment compensation benefits in cases where there is a child support arrearage or child support overpayment made to a custodial parent. Act No. 87, signed into law by Governor Jindal on May 11, 2012, clarifies and aligns existing state law with federal law by specifying that child support overpayments are excluded from recovery from unemployment compensation benefits.
Wyoming Senate bill tightens child support collections- Jan. 9, 2013
A Wyoming bill, Senate File 58, lowers the dollar threshold where a parent in arrears will lose their driver’s license to include a parent who is $2,500 in arrears and has not made a full monthly payment in 90 days. The original law adopted in 2009 triggers a driver's license suspension if a parent is $5,000 in arrears and has not made a payment in 60 days. The bill is sponsored by Sen. Wayne Johnson, R-Cheyenne.
Lawmakers start to tackle child-support, banking laws- Jan. 15, 2013
The South Dakota legislature is addressing a 21-section measure that covers a range of amendments and new sections of child support law. The legislation was requested by the state Department of Social Services in response to actual situations in South Dakota. One proposal would provide legal standing for action by a potential biological father who is not the husband, in instances when a child is born in wedlock or within 10 months of the end of a marriage. The legislation would also add a requirement to support orders so that each parent must notify the department of their current addresses and the names and addresses of current employers, with any changes reported within seven business days. Another new requirement would call for parties in a support hearing to file all financial and legal documents with the referee at least five days before the date set for the hearing by the referee. The parties could in turn obtain all of the information from the referee.
New legislative bill to ask rapists to pay child support- Jan. 15, 2013
A bill gaining attention in the Nebraska legislature would force men who conceive children through a sexual assault to pay child support but lose all parental rights. Senator Bill Avery of Lincoln, Nebraska introduced the bill. It also states that the man involved will only get to keep his parental rights if the victim gives consent and if a judge deems it is in the child's best interest.
Right Path for Fathers program gets federal funding- Nov. 5, 2012
Stark County Job and Family Services (Ohio) will participate in a federally funded program to help long-term unemployed parents who do not have custody of their children and pay child support. The agency’s Child Support Enforcement division is one of eight agencies nationwide to receive the five-year federal grant worth $500,000 a year. The program, named Right Path for Fathers Partnership, is designed to help noncustodial parents overcome barriers to employment, find a job and make consistent support payments to their families.
Wyoming committee recalculates low-income child support payments- Jan. 10, 2013
The Wyoming Legislature is reviewing a bill that would reduce child support payments for low-income parents in Wyoming. In many cases, parents do not pay child support if they cannot afford the court-mandated amount. Under the terms of the bill, the amount the parent is ordered to pay may be less, but there is a higher chance the order will be enforced. The bill says that the cost of raising a child dropped from 36 percent of income to 32 percent of expenditures for low-income families. Federal law requires states to review the child support program every four years. The Wyoming Department of Workforce Services worked with economist Jane Venohr to assess a new payment rate based on the monthly amount families spend on children. The rate takes into consideration costs of food, clothing, medicine and expenses like dance lessons for families with higher incomes. The old formula looked at the effect of the total cost of big-ticket items to families. In the new formula, the effects of monthly payments on big-ticket items were assessed instead of the overall, long-term cost. Other states throughout the nation are using Venohr’s study as the standard for deriving the new rates.
H&W wants five positions back to enforce child support against food stamp recipients- Jan. 15, 2013
Idaho is one of just five states that require all food stamp recipients to comply with its child support program, which enforces child support orders against noncustodial parents, to reduce the need for public support. Budget holdbacks in 2010 that cut 12 positions ended the practice, and Health & Welfare wants to reinstate it. The division believes it can bring that function back with just five of the 12 lost positions; they are requesting funding for that next year, at $146,800 in state funds, with an equal amount of matching federal funds.
Healthy Family Relationships
Relationship, marriage classes can help families, especially low-income families — if they know about them- Dec. 28 2012
Marriage and relationship classes are a public policy tool to used strengthen families, particularly those that are disadvantaged and vulnerable. These classes are not well known options and not everyone can access them, according to researchers from BYU and the National Healthy Marriage Resource Center. Such education efforts help individuals form healthy relationships and bolster existing marriages. Developing skills like aligning expectations, understanding what a healthy relationship is, and learning basic relationship skills are believed to help those who have had little exposure to a healthy, long-lasting marriage. The first generation of marriage and relationship education program evaluation research found moderate positive effects, but were focused almost exclusively on middle-class white couples. Emerging research is also showing potential for relationship education services to help at-risk youths, low-income cohabiting young adults and couples in stepfamilies, though more research is needed.
Engagement of Fathers from Birth
Burlington County lawmaker still pushing responsible fatherhood initiative- Nov. 23, 2012
Assemblyman Troy Singleton introduced legislation to create a government council to promote responsible fatherhood. His bill would establish a 21-member council within the New Jersey Department of Children and Families dedicated to promoting the participation of both parents in the lives of their children, and identifying the needs and priorities of existing fatherhood and parenting programs in the state. The council also would seek federal and private dollars to create a state “responsible fatherhood fund” that would support the council’s work and provide grants to programs that promote responsible fatherhood. A fiscal analysis of the bill estimates that the council would cost the state about $337,900 over the first three years, mostly for the salary and benefits of a full-time staffer, who would work to support the council’s goals and identify funding sources for fatherhood programs. The governor did not support the bill.
Generations apart: Exploring the challenges society places on fatherhood- Nov. 29, 2012
Fathers are struggling to do the same job their fathers and grandfathers once did so well just a few decades ago. A study done by the Pew Research Center found that 47 percent of Americans believe fathers are doing a worse job at parenting than fathers of the last 20-30 years were. Societal factors such as outside influences, peer pressure and interruptions and distractions from technology are the main challenges men face against being good fathers today, according to the same Pew study. The Pew study also indicated the public belief that modern fathers are failing to teach their children morals and failing to discipline them effectively. A trend in modern fatherhood is the tendency to become a parent later in life. The main reason for this trend seems to be that adults are interested in accomplishing their goals before starting a family.
Fathers disappear from households across America- Dec. 25, 2012
Fifteen million U.S. children, or 1 in 3, live without a father. In every state, the portion of families where children have two parents, rather than one, has dropped significantly over the past decade. The number of two-parent households decreased by 1.2 million. Married couples with children have an average income of $80,000, compared with $24,000 for single mothers. Among blacks, nearly 5 million children, or 54 percent, live with only their mother. Twelve percent of black families below the poverty line have two parents present, compared with 41 percent of impoverished Hispanic families and 32 percent of poor white families. In all states but Rhode Island and Massachusetts, most Hispanic children do. In Wisconsin, 77 percent of white children and 61 percent of Hispanics live with both parents, compared with more than 25 percent of black children. Maine, Vermont and West Virginia have the lowest dual-parenthood rates for whites.
Kansas pursues child support from sperm donor- Dec. 29, 2012
A Kansas man who signed away any parental rights when he donated sperm to a lesbian Topeka couple is now being pursued by the state for child support after the mother received financial assistance for the child. A lawyer for the man argues that the state’s effort to have him declared the baby’s father runs contrary to a 2007 Kansas Supreme Court ruling on sperm donors. All the parties signed an agreement saying the man would be paid $50 per semen donation, with the arrangement including a clear understanding that he would have no parental rights whatsoever with the child or children. The agreement also called for the mothers to hold the man harmless “for any child support payments demanded of him by any other person or entity, public or private, including any district attorney’s office or other state or county agency, regardless of the circumstances or said demand.”
Counties receive funding to improve child support- Oct. 28, 2012
The Wisconsin Department of Children and Families is beginning a five-year initiative funding counties to improve child support collection. The initiative provides non-custodial parents with services they may need to support their families. Counties will have some discretion on how they will use the $2.6 million in federal funds. The program will target parents with child support cases in which there has been no payment in the last year since the order was established.
Predictive Data Fuels Child Support Success- Nov. 29, 2012
Pennsylvania Bureau of Child Support Enforcement wanted to improve their child support collections. To do so, the bureau began looking for variables to consider to help determine how likely the non-custodial parent is to pay. Over a period of a year, the bureau developed a payment score calculator that factors in several pieces of data on the non-custodial parent and arrives at a “score” that predicts how likely that person is to satisfy their child support obligations. Included in the algorithm are factors like the parent’s age, employment status and history, residential stability and number of current child support cases. The state uses about 20 such demographic variables to arrive at a score in each case. The state was able to use existing technical resources to bring the system online; and the data sets, a robust data warehouse and data mining capabilities were already available as well. Using the system allows the bureau to adopt a more hands-on, proactive stance when it comes to collections. The state is able to use specific interventions based upon the score provided, such as employment training or punitive measures.
Md. eliminates paper checks for child support payments- Jan. 23, 2013
In January, Maryland will begin sending all child support payments electronically, which is said to save $1.4 million. The Child Support Enforcement Administration says eliminating the paper check option in favor of direct deposit and a new Electronic Payment Issuance Card for custodial parents will be easier, faster and safer for families. The state will save on the cost of printing and mailing checks. While the state has long offered the option of direct deposit, the Bank of America-issued Visa debit cards are new. A bank account is not required for the Electronic Payment Issuance Cards. Individuals will be able to withdraw cash from the cards via ATMs, bank tellers and credit unions that accept Visa, according to the state.
Forum On Child Support Laws Is Dec. 13- Nov. 29, 2012
State Representative JoAnne Favors scheduled a fact finding public forum to obtain information from non-custodial parents regarding their experiences with Tennessee child support laws, policies and interventions. The forum was conducted in response to an overwhelming number of telephone calls and personal discussions with noncustodial parents, their parents, and other concerned citizens regarding interventions that have been perceived as being extremely harsh and unjust. Other complaints included threatening letters still being sent after modifications had been agreed on, a parent having been awarded custody of the child continuing to receive letters demanding child support payments, revocation of driver’s licenses when child support payments are in arrears, and allegations of severe verbal mistreatment of noncustodial parents as they navigate the system. An advisory committee will compile a report based on information provided by forum participants.
Military mom's career figured in custody decision; she's filed appeal- Dec. 27, 2012
A Hall County (Nebraska) Judge ruled that the uncertainty of deployment would make it difficult for an enlisted mother to provide a stable home for the children. As a result, the judge determined that the father could provide a more stable environment for the children. The judge found both parents to be fit and proper parents. However, he ruled that the family unit was not typical “solely from the fact of the plaintiff's military career.” The mother is appealing the decision. The basis for her appeal is a state law that took effect in August 2011. The law states that a military parent's military “membership, mobilization, deployment, absence, relocation or failure to comply with custody, parenting time, visitation or other access orders because of military duty shall not, by itself, be sufficient to justify an order or modification of an order involving custody, parenting time, visitation or other access.”
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.