Child Support Digest Volume 7, Number 3


NCSL Resources

Promoting Parental Employment to Boost Child Support and Mitigate the Cliff Effect

The federal Office of Child Support Enforcement (OCSE) estimates that 13% of noncustodial parents are unemployed for extended periods. A Colorado study found that difficulty finding employment was the No. 1 barrier to paying child support for one-third of noncustodial parents surveyed. Getting noncustodial parents to work not only puts them on a path toward increased financial security, it also ensures some financial support for their children and could be an important strategy to preventing custodial families receiving public assistance from falling off the benefits cliff.

“Benefits cliffs”—or “the cliff effect”— refers to the sudden and often unexpected decrease in public benefits that can occur with a small increase in earnings. When income increases, families sometimes lose some or all of their economic supports. When lost benefits outpace a wage increase, many families “park” or fall off the cliff’s edge, stalling progression in their jobs and careers.

A recent report from OCSE showed that just over half of families served by the Title IV-D child support program had incomes below 150% of the federal poverty line and approximately 60% of custodial households engaged in the child support program received some form of public assistance in 2015. The same study found that, in 2016, more half of custodial parents were employed full time for the full year. Increased child support to low-income families is critical to achieving economic security and could help serve as a bridge to mitigate, or smooth out, a potential cliff effect.

NCSL’s 2019 brief, Promoting Parental Employment to Boost Child Support, explores the opportunities at the state and federal levels to provide employment services to noncustodial parents engaged in the child support program. It looks at how eight states leveraged child support incentive and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families dollars to provide these employment services, as well as the positive outcomes that resulted. For a closer look at benefits cliffs, and state policy options to address and mitigate the effects of them, see NCSL’s brief, Moving Up: Helping Families Climb the Economic Ladder by Addressing Benefits Cliffs.

2019 Enacted Legislation

State lawmakers have introduced nearly 700 child support and family law bills since January. Among the issues being addressed are: custody and visitation, economic stability, enforcement of child support orders, family violence collaboration, child support guidelines, health care coverage in child support orders, healthy family relationships, implementation and administrative requirements, and parentage. Of these bills, 120 have been enacted, and 340 are still under consideration.

Through a partnership with the federal Office of Child Support Enforcement, NCSL maintains a publicly available database of child support and family law legislation. Keep reading for a summary of laws introduced thus far in 2019.

Custody and Visitation

Forty-six states and Puerto Rico have introduced 235 bills addressing custody and visitation in 2019. Of those, 28 bills have been enacted. Topping the list are bills related to shared parenting, factors to be considered when determining custody, court procedure requirements when a child is being relocated, and situations where family violence may be involved. Bills related to grandparent custody and visitation and custody and visitation when parents are on active duty in the military are also big topics of legislation in 2019.

Order Enforcement

As in past years, child support enforcement is the most common topic of child support legislation across the country, with nearly 200 bills from 43 states and Puerto Rico considered so far in 2019. Topics of enacted legislation include general child support enforcement, child support and incarceration, child support cooperation requirements, interception of certain gambling winnings or tax refunds and license restrictions. More than 30 bills from 17 states have already been enacted.


Thus far in 2019, 32 states have introduced 75 bills to update and amend child support guidelines, calculate parenting time and other adjustments to child support guideline amounts and clarify when child support orders terminate. At least 12 bills have been enacted. Arkansas and Colorado updated their child support income schedules. Maryland altered the definition of extraordinary medical expenses to mean costs for medical treatment in excess of a specified amount in a calendar year. Washington directed its child support agency to prepare a child support review report for the use in the quadrennial review of the state’s child support guidelines.

Other legislation addresses parental rights and sexual assault, parenting education, economic stability for noncustodial and custodial parents, medical support orders and parentage. For more about legislation introduced from 2012-2019, visit NCSL’s Child Support and Family Law Legislation Database.

NCSL Resources

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

Other Resources

Colorado Seeing Results from the Pass-Through and Disregard

In 2015, Colorado enacted Senate Bill 12, the nation’s first full pass-through and disregard policy. That means 100% of the child support collected on behalf of families receiving Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) goes directly to that family, rather than being retained by the state as reimbursement for the TANF benefit. In addition, that amount would be disregarded for TANF eligibility purposes.

As follow-up from that legislation, the Colorado Department of Human Services, Office of Performance & Strategic Outcomes is evaluating the pass-through policy and its effectiveness across the state. Initial findings show that, on average, families received $167 more each month in child support, totaling $10 million to Colorado families from April 2017 through December 2018. In addition to a one-page overview, evaluators recorded a webinar detailing the study and initial findings.