An Evidence-Based Approach to Child Support

James White | January 11, 2023 | Publication

Elevated inflation and economic uncertainty make strong and equitable child support policy imperative for the well-being of fathers, families, and communities. Through careful and rigorous research, we know that there is a better way to approach child support policy to build strong families and communities.

Across the country – states, counties, and tribes have embraced the research and are modernizing their child support programs through holistic, family-centered policies and practices that build partnerships with parents instead of adversarial relationships. They go beyond collecting money to address underlying reasons for nonpayment, ensure that children benefit from payments, and facilitate effective co-parenting. Family-centered child support policies put children where they belong: at the center of child support policymaking.

The below Centering Child Well-Being in Child Support Policy toolkit, developed in partnership with Good+ Foundation, features new analysis of state child support director survey data. We found that many states are moving to adopt more pragmatic and family-centered child support policies, including the following innovations:

Centering Child Well-Being in Child Support Policy [Main Framing Paper]

The central goal of child support policy must be child well-being. Child support policies designed to maximize child well-being can increase financial and other resources available to children, remove barriers to consistent child support payment, increase employment retention among noncustodial fathers with support orders, support noncustodial parental engagement, and facilitate healthy co-parenting.

1. Family Distribution: Ensuring Families Receive All Child Support Payments

Putting child support dollars in families’ hands results in more income for families and helps them cover essentials like children’s food, clothes, and school supplies. States can direct that money to families at home, rather than to the federal government. Family pass-through and distribution policies incentivize noncustodial fathers to pay through the formal child support program and can increase federal incentive payments by improving child support program performance.

2. Reducing Arrears: Implementing Sensible Debt Reduction Strategies

Reducing state-owed debt can increase employment and child support payments, reduce time spent on futile collection efforts, and increase federal performance incentive payments. Almost all states have policies that allow noncustodial fathers to seek a reduction of state-owed debt, either on a case- by-case basis or as part of a debt reduction program. Debt reduction programs work hand-in-hand with prevention and early intervention strategies, including setting realistic support orders, intervening early in cases where fathers are falling behind on payments, and providing needed services through community partnerships.

3. Right-Sizing Orders: Setting Realistic and Accurate Child Support Orders

Child support is an important source of income for children, but many noncustodial fathers have a limited ability to pay. Unrealistically high child support orders based on faulty assumptions about earning capacity do not produce more income for children; they produce uncollectible debt. Orders set beyond the ability of noncustodial fathers to pay them are counterproductive, resulting in less consistent payments, decreased labor force participation, increased debt, and strained family relationships. Unrealistic orders increase the compliance gap in child support collection rates, potentially reducing performance incentive funds and reducing public confidence in the effectiveness of the program.

4. Income Supports: Providing Employment and Income Supports When Noncustodial Parents Have Barriers to Payment

Employment-oriented programs offered as an alternative to traditional child support enforcement have the potential to improve outcomes for noncustodial fathers with a limited ability to pay child support. Noncustodial fathers who are struggling to stay on their feet need more support, not only because of the child support that they pay, but also because of their value as parents, employees, and members of the community. Investments in stronger work skills, job advancement, and income supplements for both parents could lead to more financially secure families, better life outcomes for children and parents, more equitable policies, and less strain on public systems.

5. Family Stabilization: Supporting Healthy Co-Parenting

Children do better when both parents actively raise and support them in healthy and collaborative environments. Family-centered child support draws on multiple strategies to support parenting and co-parenting relationships and improve the ability of noncustodial fathers to work and pay support. Family-centered child support is a two-generation (2Gen), holistic approach that aims to set realistic policies and provide support to parents so that they can better support and care for their children.

6. Justice: Providing Equal Access to Justice

This moment is ripe for increasing equal access to justice in the child support program. A just and equitable decision in a child support case takes into account the factual circumstances and financial needs of all members of the family‚ÄĒchildren, custodial mothers, and noncustodial fathers. Incorporating family-centered policies, processes, and services sets the stage for both parents to achieve a resolution to their child support cases that provides support for children, supports healthy family relationships, and reassures both parents that the program is fair.

Share these Resources

Share these resources with your networks! Download new infographics and review draft promotion language using our Social Media Communications Toolkit.
 
 

Related Posts

Ascend at the Aspen Institute today launched a report, A 2Gen Approach in Wisconsin: A State Case Study for Systems Leaders & Policymakers, which deta...
Press ReleasesMay 16, 2024
Group photo in Aspen, CO
am delighted to share a love note in the form of Ascend’s 2023 Impact and Inspiration Report. In it, you will see how by making the most of the ca...
PublicationFebruary 14, 2024
Ascend at the Aspen Institute today launched a report, A 2Gen Approach in Minnesota: A State Case Study for Systems Leaders & Policymakers, which deta...
Press ReleasesJanuary 9, 2024
We know that there is a better way to approach child support policy to build strong families and communities -- and that's why we're proud to share w...
BlogAugust 22, 2023
Cover of the digital chartbook, "We Are Here Too: Who Are the 1 Million Fathers in College?". A student father in a graduation cap and gown is seated with his son and daughter, smiling.
Among the one in five postsecondary students who are parents, there are close to 1.1 million student fathers. This chartbook synthesizes the available...
Aspen Postsecondary Success for ParentsJune 16, 2023
The Aspen Family Prosperity Innovation Community Phase II sought to find and foster the most effective and innovative strategies to accelerate social ...
Aspen Family Prosperity Innovation CommunityMay 3, 2023
Ascend at the Aspen Institute builds intergenerational family prosperity and well-being for children and the adults in their lives through a two-gener...
Ascend NetworkApril 27, 2023
We are pleased to share Ascend at the Aspen Institute‚Äôs newest report – Reimagining Child Welfare and Realizing a Networked Approach to F...
PublicationApril 10, 2023
We are delighted to share a new research report in partnership with Child Trends: Data on Families with Low Incomes Across America Can Inform Two-Gene...
PublicationMarch 1, 2023
Group of Ascend Fellows at Wind Cave National Park
My heart is filled with love and gratitude for the courageous community of leaders our Ascend at the Aspen Institute team works with everyday.  And I...
PublicationFebruary 14, 2023
We have an abundance of talent that is ready to reimagine early childhood and well-being in America for our youngest children and families, but we do ...
Ascend FellowshipMay 24, 2022
As we reimagine public systems and services to work better for families, we have an opportunity to do so in a way that honors the full diversity of fa...
BlogJune 16, 2021
A new report released today by Ascend at the Aspen Institute (Ascend) takes stock of the two-generation (2Gen) field. It analyzes what has been accomp...
BlogJune 7, 2021
Ascend at the Aspen Institute and The Jed Foundation Release a New Mental Health Framework with Recommendations for Supporting the Mental Health of St...
BlogMay 26, 2021
Infant and parent brains and bodies undergo rapid growth and transformation during the transition to parenting, presenting a unique opportunity to pos...
BlogSeptember 29, 2020