Abstract: Understanding Racial Disparities in Child Support Arrears (Society for Social Work and Research 27th Annual Conference - Social Work Science and Complex Problems: Battling Inequities + Building Solutions)

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Understanding Racial Disparities in Child Support Arrears

Sunday, January 15, 2023
Laveen A, 2nd Level (Sheraton Phoenix Downtown)
* noted as presenting author
Yoona Kim, MSW, Graduate Student, University of Wisconsin-Madison, Madison, WI
Daniel Meyer, PhD, Professor, University of Wisconsin - Madison, Madison, WI
Previous research found that using imputed income to set orders, setting orders when the NCP is not present (default orders), and setting orders that are a high proportion of earnings (burdensome orders) are all associated with lower compliance, which can then lead to the accumulation of arrears that far exceeds the ability of NCPs to ever pay. Previous research is not conclusive but suggests that NCPs with racial and ethnic minority background are more likely to have orders set by default, based on imputed income or higher than their actual ability to pay. In this paper, we focus on whether and how each factor in setting the orders are disproportionately concentrated among racially and ethnically marginalized group of NCPs, and whether this disproportionality explains arrears accumulation.

Our primary data are drawn from the Wisconsin Court Record Data (CRD), a sample of child support-related court cases from 21 Wisconsin counties, along with other administrative records. The CRD contains information on whether the order is set by default or based on imputed income. We use administrative records of earnings to measure the burdensomeness of the order. Race and ethnicity is based either on a person’s own perceived identity or the perception of others (e.g., caseworkers). Drawing on an adapted risk research framework, we conceptualize risk in terms of the prevalence of each factor in the setting of the order that can lead to noncompliance. We first provide descriptive statistics of prevalence of risk factors (imputed income, default orders and burdensome orders) across racialized groups. Using logistic regression, we then assess the associations between each risk factor interacted with race and ethnicity and the likelihood of noncompliance (which will lead to arrears accumulation).

Overall, about one in five of the sample has orders set based on imputed income. Having default orders is rare (5%), but order burdens are relatively common for fathers in the sample (38%). For all three factors, Non-Hispanic Black fathers consistently have higher rate than fathers in other racialized groups (e.g., Default orders NH Black 14% vs. NH White 2% vs. Hispanic 5%). Logistic regression results show that NH Black fathers whose orders are set based on imputed income are 13 percentage points more likely to make no payment than NH White fathers without imputed income orders. While default orders have no association with payment among NH White fathers, NH Black fathers with default orders are 19 percentage points more likely to fail to pay child support than NH White fathers without default orders. Having burdensome orders has negative associations with payment across all racialized groups but is more detrimental for racial and ethnic minorities than for NH White.

Findings suggest racial and ethnic disproportionality in each factor in setting the order as well as in the relationships with child support outcomes. With growing attention to whether and how noncustodial parents’ experiences with child support differ for racially minoritized groups, this study contributes to understanding structural issues in the child support system.