Child Support Caseload Trends: 1999-2016

March 10, 2017
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The national caseload for the child support program stood at 14.5 million cases in FY 2016, down 8 percent since FY 2010 after holding relatively steady at 15.6 to 15.9 million cases between FY 2003 and FY 2010. Although the national caseload has been declining recently, performance continues to improve and the child support program still serves nearly 16 million children, or about one in five children nationwide. In this blog, we explore why the caseload has been declining since FY 2010.

National Child Support Caseload: FY 1999–FY 2016

Line graph shows national child support caseload types (former, never, and current assistance) for FY 1999–FY 2016

Source: OCSE Form 157, Line 1

To assist in this conversation, we have provided a link to national and state caseload trends below. While the decrease in child support caseloads is a national trend, data shows that there is a great deal of variation among the states.

The child support caseload has been divided into the following three categories since FY 1999:

Current Assistance: cases that are receiving cash assistance from the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program or IV-E foster care maintenance payments.

Former Assistance: cases that formerly received cash assistance from TANF or IV-E foster care maintenance payments.

Never Assistance: cases that never received cash assistance from TANF or IV-E foster care maintenance payments.

Current Assistance Caseload Cut by More than Half

Since FY 1999, the current assistance caseload has dropped from 3.7 million to 1.4 million cases, a 62 percent drop. The only time the current assistance caseload did not decline was during the recessionary period between FY 2008 and FY 2010. Since then, the current assistance caseload dropped from 2.2 million to 1.4 million cases, a 36 percent decline. This decline in the current assistance caseload coincides with a decline in TANF enrollment, which is not surprising since TANF recipients are required to open a child support case.

Former Assistance Caseload Also Drops

The former assistance caseload has also experienced a decline since FY 1999. It declined from 7.3 million to 6.2 million cases, a 16 percent decrease. However, it increased slightly in FY 2011 and FY 2012, following the increase in the current assistance caseload during the recession. Since then it has declined by 9 percent.

Never Assistance Caseload Growth

In contrast to the current and former assistance caseloads, the never assistance caseload has grown from 6.2 million to 6.9 million cases since FY 1999, a 12 percent increase. After declining between FY 1999 and FY 2003, the never assistance caseload increased over 2 percent per year between FY 2003 and FY 2011, reaching nearly 7 million cases in FY 2011. This increase essentially offset the decline in the current and former assistance caseload during this period, resulting in a relatively stable total caseload. Since then, the never assistance caseload has drifted downward slightly, from 7 million to 6.9 million. In FY 2012 and FY 2013, the never assistance caseload actually increased, but by less than 1 percent.

This was followed by a 2 percent decline in FY 2014 and FY 2015. In FY 2016, the number increased again, but by less than 1 percent. As this discussion reveals, the decline in the child support caseload since FY 2010 is primarily due to the decrease in current assistance cases, which has declined by nearly 800,000 cases since FY 2010. The former assistance caseload also dropped by nearly 600,000 cases during this period. The other factor that has contributed to the decline in the total caseload since FY 2010 is the lack of growth in the never assistance caseload since FY 2010. During the earlier period of FY 2003 to FY 2010, the growth in never assistance cases essentially offset the decline in current and former assistance cases.

Child Support Caseload Trend Reports

We invite you to share your thoughts about the reasons and implications for changes in the child support caseload. View national and state caseload trends.

Last Reviewed: January 20, 2020

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