Child Support Digest Volume 7, Number 1


NCSL Resources

Child Support Program Changes Result in Stronger Families

Estimates from the federal Office of Child Support Enforcement show that 13 percent of noncustodial parents are unemployed for extended periods of time. In a recent episode of NCSL’s twice-monthly podcast, Our American States, we talk with officials in two states that are successfully addressing the issues and concerns of those who owe child support payments and, as a result, are improving relationships between parents and their children. Larry Desbien, director of Colorado’s Division of Child Support Services discusses how the Colorado Parent Employment Project has been implementing a two-generation approach to noncustodial parent employment and the impressive outcomes that have resulted. Noelita Lugo, assistant deputy director of Field Initiatives for the Texas Attorney General’s Child Support Division, discusses Texas’ Noncustodial Parent Choices program, its partnerships with workforce programs across the state and the above average cost-effectiveness of the program.

The podcast can be found on NCSL's website, and on iTunes and Google Play.

Addressing Child Support Issues for Incarcerated Parents

An estimated one quarter of the 1.57 million people in federal and state prisons have a child support case, affecting potentially 2.7 million children. To address the issue of incarcerated parents with child support orders, the federal Office of Child Support Enforcement published final rules in December 2016 providing guidance to states on how to handle such cases. 

The distinction between noncustodial parents who are incarcerated for failure to pay child support and those incarcerated for a separate criminal offense who also have child support orders is important. The rule specifically addresses incarceration for failure to pay child support, as well as modification procedures for incarcerated noncustodial parents. The major provisions of the rule regarding incarcerated noncustodial parents are:

  • Incarceration for Failure to Pay Child Support: the rule provides guidance on the factors to be considered when determining which cases should be referred to the court for civil contempt, including a determination of the noncustodial parent’s ability to pay.
  • Incarcerated with a Child Support Order: the rule prohibits states from treating incarceration as voluntary unemployment for purposes of modifying a child support order.

Since the rule was published, at least 20 states introduced 34 bills to prohibit incarceration from being treated as voluntary unemployment, allowing child support orders to be modified or suspended during periods of incarceration. Nine states have enacted legislation. As of 2019, 40 states and the District of Columbia allow for modification or suspension of child support orders during incarceration. NCSL’s Child Support and Incarceration page provides an overview of these issues and the legislation that has been introduced since the rule change.

NCSL Child Support Resources

NCSL manages a clearinghouse of information related to child support and family law issues. Below are some of our most-used resources:

National Reports and Resources

More Money for Families: 2017 Data Available

Child support is one of the most cost-effective programs, with $5.15 being collected for every dollar spent. Each year, the federal Office of Child Support Enforcement releases a report to Congress detailing 50-state data on numerous child support measures. The fiscal year 2017 preliminary report to Congress, and the accompanying infographic show that states collected more than $32 billion on behalf of the 15.1 million children served by child support enforcement programs across the country.

The infographic also shows that 96 percent of collections went directly to families served by the child support program, while the other 4 percent was retained as reimbursement for public assistance, such as Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF). While caseloads trended slightly downward, child support caseloads remain one of the top three programs serving children, behind Medicaid and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).

Check out NCSL’s new State-by-State Child Support Data page for a 50-state breakdown of total distributed collections, total arrearages, amount of current support due, total caseload and total administrative expenditures over the past four years.

Checking in on the Child Support Performance and Incentive Act

A new report by the Assistance Secretary for Planning and Evaluation with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and MEF Associates, The Child Support Performance and Incentive Act at 20: Examining Trends in State Performance, discusses trends and progress in federal performance measures and use of federal incentive payments across states. Federal incentive payments are based on performance measures set 20 years ago by the Child Support Performance and Incentive Act. Performance measures include paternity establishment, order establishment, current support collections, arrears collections and cost-effectiveness of the child support program.

The report concludes that states are making progress on order and paternity establishment. However, collecting current support and arrears owed remains a challenge. Meanwhile, child support programs are one of the most cost-effective programs nationally and in some states. In 2016, 26 state child support programs boasted a cost-effectiveness ratio at or above $5 for every dollar spent.