By Meghan McCann
Child support and family law were again big topics for state legislatures during the 2016 legislative session.
About 850 bills were up for consideration in 46 states and several territories resulting in enactment of more than 140 bills.
These bills addressed a variety of issues, including child support prevention, custody and visitation, economic stability, enforcement, family violence collaboration, fatherhood engagement, guidelines, health care coverage, healthy family relationships, implementation and administration requirements placed on the agency, parentage and other family law topics.
See a brief summary below. For a more detailed summary, visit NCSL’s Child Support Digest, Volume 4, Number 4 and NCSL’s Child Support and Family Law Legislation Database for another look at 2016 enacted legislation and introduced and enacted legislation from 2012-2016.
2016 Enacted Legislation Summary
Thirteen states enacted 20 bills addressing custody and visitation. Issues included considerations for courts when determining custody and visitation, and factors for the best interest of the child, including custodial interference and the willingness of the parents to facilitate a relationship between the child and the other parent. In addition, several states enacted legislation on grandparent and military custody and visitation. See NCSL’s Child Support and Parenting Time Orders page for more on what other states have done and NCSL’s Military Parent Custody and Visitation page.
Six states passed legislation on the economic stability of noncustodial parents and families receiving child support. Topics included the distribution of child support payments to families receiving Temporary Assistance for Needy Families and the intersection between child support and incarcerated noncustodial parents. See NCSL’s Child Support Pass-Through and Disregard Policies for Public Assistance Recipients and NCSL’s Child Support and Incarceration page for more.
The topic that garners the largest number of enactments each year is child support enforcement. In 2016, 22 states and D.C. enacted legislation regarding the enforcement of child support orders, including payment methods, such as income withholding, and other methods of enforcing child support. Legislation regarding cooperation requirements with child support enforcement when applying for various public assistance benefits was also enacted as well.
Fifteen states enacted more than 20 bills addressing family law issues such as the dissolution of marriage and grounds for divorce as well as parenting coordinators and custody investigators, conflict management, such as alternative dispute resolution and collaborative family law, in addition to other issues within the court process affecting families.
Thirteen states enacted 15 bills addressing the crossover between family violence, child support and child custody. Several bills address protection orders and other court protections for victims of family violence as well as the parental rights of parents who conceive a child through sexual assault. See NCSL’s Parental Rights and Sexual Assault for more.
Eleven states enacted 14 bills addressing child support guidelines, including the modification of child support orders, guideline commissions, and amendments to income calculations and schedules. Three states created or revised parenting time adjustments to child support orders, while another addressed child support adjustments for noncustodial parents who have existing child support orders.
- Arkansas and Maryland enacted legislation to increase the engagement of fathers, and noncustodial parents generally, in the lives of their children.
- Two states enacted legislation to address cash medical support and who is responsible for providing health insurance as well as the timing of health care coverage.
- Three states provided funding for marriage and relationship skills training to improve the relationship between the parents and their children.
- Eight states enacted legislation related to the implementation and administration of the state child support program.
- Parentage (paternity and maternity) of children is a major component of the child support program. Issues surrounding assisted reproduction and gestational surrogacy, as well as the establishment and disestablishment of paternity were the topic of 10 bills from seven states.
(For a fully interactive version of this graphic, visit this page.
Meghan McCann is a policy specialist with the National Conference of State Legislatures’ Children and Families Program. She covers child support, family law, domestic violence and child welfare policy issues.