Chapter 8: Child Support Enforcement

Child Support Enforcement Introduction and Overview

Introduction

The federal Child Support Enforcement (CSE) program was signed into law in 1975 by President Gerald Ford. It was part of the Social Services Amendments of 1974 (P.L. 93-647).  The CSE program is Title IV-D of the Social Security Act.  The CSE program is based on the premise that both parents are financially responsible for their children.  Child support is the cash payment that noncustodial parents are legally obligated to pay for the financial support of their children.  It generally is established when parents divorce or separate or when the custodial parent applies for welfare.  It is usually paid on a monthly basis.

When the CSE program was first established, its goals were to reimburse the states and the federal government for the welfare payments it provided families and to help other families obtain consistent and ongoing child support payments from the noncustodial parent so that they could remain self-sufficient and stay off welfare.  Congress through legislative changes has broadened the mission of the CSE program.  The CSE program has evolved over time from a “welfare cost-recovery” program into a “family-first” service delivery program that seeks to enhance the well-being of families by making child support a reliable source of income.  The mission of the CSE program is to enhance the well-being of children by helping custodial parents and children obtain financial support from the noncustodial parents on a consistent and continuing basis.  Child support payments enable parents who do not live with their children to fulfill their financial responsibility to their children by contributing to the payment of childrearing costs.

The CSE program provides seven basic services on behalf of children.  It (1) locates noncustodial parents, (2) establishes paternity, (3) establishes child support orders, (4) reviews and modifies child support orders, (5) collects child support payments from noncustodial parents, (6) establishes and enforces medical child support, and (7) distributes child support payments to custodial parents.

The CSE program is administered at the federal level by the Office of Child Support Enforcement (OCSE) in the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).  The CSE program is available in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, the territories of Guam, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands, and about 61 tribal nations.  The CSE program is usually operated at the county-level of government.

The CSE program is a federal-state program that provides services to both welfare and non-welfare families.  Welfare families (i.e., Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF, Title IV-A) recipients, federal foster care families (Title IV-E), and Medicaid recipients (Title XIX)) are automatically enrolled in the program, free of charge.  Non-welfare families must sign-up for CSE services and pay an application fee.  Also non-welfare families pay a $25 annual user fee if at least $500 per year is collected on behalf of the custodial parent.

There are four primary funding streams for the CSE program.  (1) States spend their own money to operate a CSE program.  (2) The federal government reimburses each state 66% of all expenditures on CSE activities.  (3) States collect child support made on behalf of TANF and foster care families to reimburse themselves and the federal government for the cost of TANF and child welfare payments and/or services to the families.  (4) The federal government provides states with an incentive payment to encourage them to operate effective CSE programs.  In addition, application and user fees and costs recovered from non-welfare families may help finance the CSE program.

In FY2013, about 12% of the CSE caseload consisted of TANF families; about 43% were families who had at some point been on the TANF program, and 45% were families that had never received TANF benefits.  In FY2013, the CSE program collected $28.0 billion in child support payments from noncustodial parents and served 15.6 million child support cases.  Of the $28.0 billion collected in child support payments, about 93% went to families, 5% went to state and federal governments, and 2% consisted of medical support payments or fees paid to states.  On average, in FY2013 the CSE program collected $5.31 in child support payments for each $1 spent on the program.  In FY2013, total CSE expenditures amounted to $5.6 billion.

Not all child support goes through the CSE program.  The CSE program handles between 50-60% of all child support cases; the rest are handled by private attorneys or collection agencies, or through mutual agreements between parents.

Chapter Overview

This chapter of the Green Book includes a series of Congressional Research Service (CRS) Reports organized under the following general headings.  Readers should consult the reports listed under each of these headings for information and data related to these topics.

  • General Information
  • CSE Financing
  • CSE Location Methods
  • CSE Collection Methods
  • CSE Payors

Separate sections provide a list of Tables and Figures in CRS Reports and free-standing  Additional Tables and Figures related to the CSE program.  Final sections include a Legislative History and Links to Additional Resources.

This page was prepared on July 15, 2014 for the 2014 version of the House Ways and Means Committee Green Book.

Child Support Enforcement Congressional Research Service (CRS) Reports

The House Ways and Means Committee is making available selected reports by the Congressional Research Service (CRS) for inclusion in its 2014 Green Book website.  CRS works exclusively for the United States Congress, providing policy and legal analysis to Committees and Members of both the House and Senate, regardless of party affiliation.  Certain CRS reports with cover dates earlier than 2014 are included here because their content remains relevant.

General Information

RS22380: Child Support Enforcement: Program Basics

R41204: Child Support Enforcement: Tribal Programs

R43020: Medical Child Support: Background and Current Policy

R43779: Child Support Enforcement and the Hague Convention on Recovery of International Child Support

R43757: Child Welfare and Child Support: The Preventing Sex Trafficking and Strengthening Families Act (P.L. 113-183)

RS22499: Child Support: An Overview of Census Bureau Data on Recipients

R42389: Child Support Enforcement: Incarceration As the Last Resort Penalty for Nonpayment of Support

CSE Financing

RL33422: Analysis of Federal-State Financing of the Child Support Enforcement Program

RS22753: Child Support Enforcement: $25 User Fee

RL34203: Child Support Enforcement Incentive Payments: Background and Policy Issues

RL34105: The Financial Impact of Child Support on TANF Families: Simulation for Selected States

CSE Location Methods

RS22889: The National Directory of New Hires

CSE Collection Methods

R41762: Child Support Enforcement and Driver’s License Suspension Policies

CSE Payors

RL31025: Fatherhood Initiatives: Connecting Fathers to Their Children

R41431: Child Well-Being and Noncustodial Fathers

R40499: Child Support and Ex-Offenders

This page was prepared on November 7, 2014 for the 2014 version of the House Ways and Means Committee Green Book.

Child Support Enforcement Tables and Figures in CRS Reports

Following is a list of tables and figures related to Child Support Enforcement that can be found in the CRS reports included in this Green Book chapter.

RS22380: Child Support Enforcement: Program Basics

Table 1. Child Support Data—FY2013 (Preliminary)

R41204: Child Support Enforcement: Tribal Programs

Table 1. Tribal CSE Program Financial and Statistical Data, FY2004-FY2010

Table 2. Tribal CSE Program, Expenditures and Collections Per Case, FY2004-FY2010

Table 3. Tribal CSE Summary Data by Tribe, FY2010

Table A-1. Tribal CSE Collections by Tribe, in Rank Order, FY2010

Table A-2. Tribal CSE Expenditures by Tribe, in Rank Order, FY2010

Table A-3. Tribal CSE Caseload by Tribe, in Rank Order, FY2010

Table A-4. Tribal CSE Program: Paternities Established by Tribe, in Rank Order, FY2010

Table A-5. Tribal CSE Program: Child Support Orders Established by Tribe, in Rank Order, FY2010

Table A-6. Tribal CSE Program: Collections Per Dollar of Expenditures by Tribe, in Rank Order, FY2010

Table B-1. Comprehensive Tribal Child Support Enforcement Programs, September 2010

Table B-2. Start-Up Tribal Child Support Enforcement Programs, FY2010

Table C-1. Population Figures for Tribes with Tribal CSE Programs: Tribal Enrollment (2005), BIA Service Population (2005), and Census AIAN Populations in Census- Defined Federal AIAN Areas (2010)

Figure 1. Map of Tribal CSE Programs

Figure 2. Tribal CSE Program: Collections and Expenditures, FY2004-FY2010

R43020: Medical Child Support: Background and Current Policy

Table B-1. Percent of Child Support Cases with Orders in Which Medical Support is Ordered, Versus Ordered and Provided: FY2009, FY2010, and FY2011

Table B-2. Percent of Child Support Cases With a Health Insurance Order Where Health Insurance Was Provided as Ordered: FY2001 and FY2011

RS22499: Child Support: An Overview of Census Bureau Data on Recipients

Table 1. Child Support Award and Receipt, 1993-2011

Table 2. Demographic Characteristics of Custodial Parents by Child Support Award and Receipt Status, 2011

R42389: Child Support Enforcement: Incarceration As the Last Resort Penalty for Nonpayment of Support

Table A-1. State Criminal Sanctions for Failure to Pay Child Support

RL33422:  Analysis of Federal-State Financing of the Child Support Enforcement Program

Table 1. Welfare and Nonwelfare Collections, FY1979-2010

Table 2. Federal, State, and Taxpayer “Savings” or “Costs” from Income and Expenditures Generated by the Child Support Enforcement (CSE) Program, FY1979-FY2009

Table 3. Federal, State, and Taxpayer “Savings” or “Costs” from Income and Expenditures Generated by the Child Support Enforcement (CSE) Program, FY1979-FY2009

Table A-1. Financing of the Federal-State Child Support Enforcement Program, FY1999

Table A-2. Financing of the Federal-State Child Support Enforcement Program, FY2009

Table A-3. Trend in Total CSE Collections, by State, FY1999-FY2010           

Table A-4. Trend in TANF/Foster Care Collections, by State, FY1999-FY2009         

Table A-5. Trend in Non-TANF Collections, by State, FY1999-FY2009         

Table A-6. Average Monthly Child Support Payments in Cases with Collections, by State, FY1999-FY2009

Table A-7. Collections on Behalf of TANF Families as a Percentage of Total CSE Collections, by State, FY1999-FY2009

Table A-8. Trend in Total CSE Expenditures, by State, FY1999-FY2010

Figure 1. Composition of Child Support Caseload, FY2010

Figure 2. Percentages of Total Child Support Collections Distributed to Families, and the Federal and State Governments, FY2010

Figure 3. Welfare and Nonwelfare Collections, FY1979-FY2010

Figure 4. Federal and State “Savings” and/or “Costs” from Income and Expenditures Generated by the Child Support Enforcement Program, FY1979-FY2009

Figure 5. Cash Welfare (AFDC/TANF) Payments and Child Support Collections Made on Behalf of AFDC/TANF Families, FY1994-FY2010

RS22753: Child Support Enforcement: $25 User Fee

Table 1. Method By Which $25 CSE Annual User Fee Is Imposed

RL34203: Child Support Enforcement Program Incentive Payments: Background and Policy Issues

Table 1. Child Support Enforcement Performance Incentive Scores: National Averages (Selected Years)

Table B-1. Actual Incentive Payments, by State, FY2002, FY2005, FY2010, and FY2011

Table B-2. Unaudited Child Support Enforcement Incentive Performance Scores, FY2002

Table B-3. Unaudited Child Support Enforcement Incentive Performance Scores, FY2005

Table B-4. Unaudited Child Support Enforcement Incentive Performance Scores, FY2010

Table B-5. Unaudited Child Support Enforcement Incentive Performance Scores, FY2011

Figure 1. Paternity Establishment Scores: Maximum, Median, Minimum (Selected Years)

Figure 2. Child Support Order Establishment Scores: Maximum, Median, Minimum (Selected Years)

Figure 3. Child Support Current Collections Scores: Maximum, Median, Minimum (Selected Years)

Figure 4. Child Support Arrearage Cases Scores: Maximum, Median, Minimum (Selected Years)

Figure 5. Cost-Effectiveness Scores: Maximum, Median, Minimum (Selected Years)

RL34105: The Financial Impact of Child Support on TANF Families: Simulation for Selected States

Table 1. Treatment of Monthly Child Support Income by the TANF Program, April 2007

Table 2. Monthly TANF and Child Support Income of a Mother with No Earnings and Two Children, Pre- and Post-DRA Policies

Table 3. Monthly TANF and Child Support Income of a Mother with No Earnings and Two Children, With $300 in Child Support

Table 4. Monthly TANF and Child Support Income of a Mother with Half-Time Earnings and Two Children, With $300 in Child Support

Table 5. Monthly TANF and Child Support Income of a Mother with Full-Time Earnings and Two Children, With $300 in Child Support

Table 6. Source of Payment for Increase in Monthly Family Income Resulting From DRA Policy, for a Mother with Two Children, With $300 in Child Support

Table A-1. Impact of DRA Policy on Total Monthly Income for a Single Mother With Two Children in California

Table A-2. Impact of DRA Policy on Total Monthly Income for a Single Mother With Two Children in Illinois

Table A-3. Impact of DRA Policy on Total Monthly Income for a Single Mother With Two Children in Maine

Table A-4. Impact of DRA Policy on Total Monthly Income for a Single Mother With Two Children in Maryland

Table A-5. Impact of DRA Policy on Total Monthly Income for a Single Mother With Two Children in Oklahoma

Table A-6. Impact of DRA Policy on Total Monthly Income for a Single Mother With Two Children in West Virginia

Table B-1. Impact of DRA Policy on Distribution of Child Support Payments for a Mother with Two Children: California

Table B-2. Impact of DRA Policy on Distribution of Child Support Payments for a Mother with Two Children: Illinois

Table B-3. Impact of DRA Policy on Distribution of Child Support Payments for a Mother with Two Children: Maine

Table B-4. Impact of DRA Policy on Distribution of Child Support Payments for a Mother with Two Children: Maryland

Table B-5. Impact of DRA Policy on Distribution of Child Support Payments for a Mother with Two Children: Oklahoma

Table B-6. Impact of DRA Policy on Distribution of Child Support Payments for a Mother with Two Children: West Virginia

R41762: Child Support Enforcement and Driver’s License Suspension Policies

Table 1. Total Child Support Collections Received by Methods of Collection, FY2009

Table 2. Access to a Car in 10 Cities, by Employment Status

Table A-1. State CSE Driver’s License Suspension Policies

R41431: Child Well-Being and Noncustodial Fathers

Table 1. Employment Rates in March of Selected Years for Men without a High School Diploma, by Race/Ethnicity and Age

Table 2. Earned Income Tax Credits: Maximum Credits and Income Eligibility Amounts for Filers With and Without Children, 2012

Table 3. Federal Funding for Teen Pregnancy Prevention Programs, FY2012

Figure 1. Poverty Rates for Children, by Family Type: 1959 to 2011

Figure 2. Percent of all Related Children Under Age 18 Living in Single-Parent, Female-Headed Families: 1960 to 2012

Figure 3. Living Arrangements of Children, March 2012

Figure 4. Median Annual Earnings of Men and Women Who Work Full-Time, Full-Year: 1960 to 2011

Figure 5. Average Annual Earnings for Men Aged 18 and Older, by Education Level: 1975 to 2010

Figure 6. Employment Rates for Men and Women: 1948 to 2012

Figure 7. Employment Rates for Men by Age: 1948 to 2012

Figure 8. Unemployment Rates for Men and Women: 1948 to 2012

Figure 9. Incarceration Rates By Sex: 1925 to 2010

Figure 10. Percent of Men Without a High School Diploma, by Race/Ethnicity and Age: 2011

Figure 11. Mean Earnings for Men Without a High School Diploma, by Race/Ethnicity: 2010

Figure 12. Incarceration Rates in 2010  

R40499: Child Support and Ex-Offenders

Figure 1. Estimated Number of Parents in State and Federal Prisons, Data for 1991, 1997, 1999, 2004, and 2007 

This page was prepared on November 7, 2014 for the 2014 version of the House Ways and Means Committee Green Book.

Child Support Enforcement Legislative History

The following provides a legislative history of Child Support Enforcement during the 113th Congress.  For prior legislative history, please see the 2012 Green Book.

113th Congress

Public Law 113-183, the Preventing Sex Trafficking and Strengthening Families Act, includes several CSE provisions.  It attempts to standardize and streamline the enforcement of child support in international cases by: (1) requiring the Secretary of HHS to use the authorities provided by law to ensure the compliance of the United States with any multilateral child support convention/treaty to which the United States is a party; (2) amending federal law so that the federal income tax refund offset program is available for use by a state to handle CSE requests from foreign reciprocating countries and foreign treaty countries; (3) requiring states to adopt the 2008 amendments to the Uniform Interstate Family Support Act (UIFSA) verbatim to ensure uniformity of procedures, requirements, and reporting forms; and (4) clarifying which state court has controlling jurisdiction in establishing, enforcing, and modifying child support orders.

Public Law 113-183 provides Indian tribes or tribal organizations access to the Federal Parent Locator Service by designating them as “authorized persons.”  It also allows Indian tribes or tribal organizations that operate a CSE program to be considered a state for purposes of authority to conduct an experimental pilot or demonstration project under the Section 1115 waiver authority to assist in promoting the objectives of the CSE program.

Public Law 113-183 includes a Sense of the Congress statement that specifies that: (1) establishing parenting time arrangements (also known as visitation) when obtaining child support orders is an important goal which should be accompanied by strong family violence safeguards; and (2) states should use existing funding sources to support the establishment of parenting time arrangements, including child support incentives, Access and Visitation Grants, and Healthy Marriage Promotion and Responsible Fatherhood Grants.

Public Law 113-183 requires data standardization within the CSE program to improve the ability of two or more systems or entities to exchange information and to correctly use the information that has been exchanged.  Also, it requires the HHS Secretary, in conjunction with developing the CSE strategic plan, to review and provide recommendations for cost-effective improvements to the CSE program.  In addition, it requires all states to use electronic processing of automated systems for the collection and disbursement of child support payments via the State Disbursement Unit by the transmission of child support orders and notices to employers for income withholding purposes using uniform formats prescribed by the HHS Secretary and, at the option of the employer, using the electronic transmission methods prescribed by the Secretary.

This page was prepared on October 1, 2014 for the 2014 version of the House Ways and Means Committee Green Book.

Child Support Enforcement Links to Additional Resources

Federal Office of Child Support Enforcement

U.S. Bureau of the Census: Child Support Data 

This page was prepared on July 14, 2014 for the 2014 version of the House Ways and Means Committee Green Book.