Session: Intended and Unintended Consequences of Child Support Policy in the United States (Society for Social Work and Research 24th Annual Conference - Reducing Racial and Economic Inequality)

5 Intended and Unintended Consequences of Child Support Policy in the United States

Thursday, January 16, 2020: 1:30 PM-3:00 PM
Independence BR B, ML 4 (Marriott Marquis Washington DC)
Cluster: Inequality, Poverty, and Social Welfare Policy (IP&SWP)
Symposium Organizer:
Laura Cuesta, PhD, Rutgers University
Yoonsook Ha, PhD, MSSW, Boston University
Several decades of policy efforts have strengthened the enforcement mechanisms available to child support agencies to collect child support, yet many child support obligations go unpaid or are not paid in full. Evidence of the high levels of economic disadvantage faced by many noncustodial fathers alongside the growing national child support debt ($117 billion in 2017) has raised concerns about the consequences for noncustodial and custodial parents and their children when child support orders are set too high.

To inform current conversations on how much child support should be expected from noncustodial parents, particularly those with limited abilities to pay, this symposium brings together four papers that explore the consequences of child support policy in the context of parental employment, family complexity, state variation in enforcement policy, and fathers' mental health and well-being.

The first two papers focus on fathers' contributions toward current support. The first asks 'What Happens When the Amount of Child Support Due is a Burden?' Using administrative data from Wisconsin, the authors find that higher order levels (as a percentage of earnings) are associated with higher payments but also with paying a lower percentage of what is due and less regularly. The second, 'Noncustodial Fathers' Contributions to Children in Extended-Family Households,' draws on data from the Current Population Survey and finds that noncustodial fathers are less likely to provide cash support to custodial mothers when the mother and children live with other adult household members. Both papers point to potential consequences including financial instability among custodial parents and their children and the accumulation of arrears among noncustodial parents, which is the focus of the second two papers.

If noncustodial parents do not make full and consistent payments they may be subject to sanctions and interest associated with child support debts. In 'Child Support Enforcement and Nonresident Fathers' Accumulation of Arrears,' the authors combine child support policy data with Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing Study data to explore how variation in state-level child support enforcement policies leads to variation in accumulation of arrears. They find that fathers living in states with higher interest rates, automatic application of interest, and retroactive orders have higher arrears; whereas those living in states allowing self-support reserves and minimum orders have lower arrears.

Child support debt may intensify both economic and emotional distress among nonresident fathers. The final paper, 'The Role of Child Support Debt on the Development of Mental Health Problems among Nonresident Fathers' considers poorer mental health and increased substance use as potential consequences of arrears accumulation. Also using data from Fragile Families, the study finds that larger arrears burdens are associated with increased risk of depression and alcohol use among noncustodial fathers.

These papers combine diverse methods with unique samples to inform research on the various ways in which family complexity and child support policies interact to influence noncustodial parent and custodial parent and child well-being. In doing so, they provide novel insights into the intended and unintended consequences of child support policy in the United States.

* noted as presenting author
What Happens When the Amount of Child Support Due Is a Burden?
Leslie Hodges, PhD, University of Wisconsin-Madison; Daniel Meyer, PhD, University of Wisconsin - Madison; Maria Cancian, PhD, Georgetown University
Extended Families and the Child Support Program
Angela Guarin, MSW, Universidad de los Andes
Child Support Enforcement and Nonresident Fathers' Accumulation of Arrears
Lenna Nepomnyaschy, PhD, Rutgers University; Mauren Waller, PhD, Cornell University; Daniel P. Miller, PhD, Boston University; Allison Dwyer Emory, PhD, Rutgers University; Alexandra Haralampoudis, MSW, Rutgers University; Nathan Robbins, Cornell University
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