Alternatives to Incarceration


Publication Date: June 18, 2012



DATE: June 18, 2012

TO: State Agencies Administering Child Support Enforcement Plans under Title IV-D of the Social Security Act and Other Interested Parties

SUBJECT: Alternatives to Incarceration


I. Turner v. Rogers Suggests Changes to Civil Contempt Practice

In June 2011, the United States Supreme Court decided the case of Turner v. Rogers. In Turner, the Court held that the state did not necessarily need to provide counsel to an unrepresented noncustodial parent in a civil contempt proceeding where the custodial parent or opposing party is not represented by counsel and the state has “in place alternative procedures that assure a fundamentally fair determination of the critical incarceration-related question, whether the supporting parent is able to comply with the court order.”1 While the decision left open a number of unresolved issues, the Court suggests that an express finding that the obligor has the actual and present ability to comply with the court’s purge order may be required prior to sentencing the contemnor. In other words, the obligor “must hold the key to the jailhouse door,” whether it is satisfying a purge payment, participating in an employment or substance abuse treatment program, or other required actions. OCSE recently released an Action Transmittal describing screening and other procedures IV-D programs should use in light of Turner.

States vary considerably in their use of civil contempt proceedings and the threat of incarceration to enforce child support. It is worth noting that about 70 percent of all child support payments are collected through income withholding and other automated enforcement procedures, rather than through civil contempt proceedings. In addition, many state child support programs have implemented proactive and early intervention practices to address the underlying reasons for unpaid arrears and avoid the need for civil contempt proceedings leading to jail time. These practices are discussed further in several OCSE fact sheets.2

The purpose of this IM is to describe promising and evidence-based practices to help states to increase reliable child support payments, improve access to justice for parents without attorneys, and reduce the need for jail time. Incarceration may indeed be appropriate in those cases where noncustodial parents have the means to support their children but willfully evade their parental responsibilities by hiding income and assets. However, several innovative strategies, described below, can reduce the need for routine civil contempt proceedings in cases involving low-income obligors and reduce costs to the public. Research suggests that such practices can actually improve compliance with child support orders, increasing both the amount of child support collected and the consistency of payment. These practices include setting accurate orders based upon the noncustodial parent’s actual income, improving review and adjustment processes, developing debt management programs, and encouraging mediation and case conferencing to resolve issues that interfere with consistent child support payments.

II. Research

Research shows that most unpaid child support arrears are owed by noncustodial parents with reported incomes below $10,000 per year.3 There is no evidence that incarceration results in more reliable child support payments that families can count on to make ends meet. Rather, incarceration can result in the accumulation of additional child support debt,4 and has the potential to reduce future earnings, erode a child’s relationship with his or her parent, and negatively impact family and community stability.5 Recognizing these realities, many child support programs have developed innovative strategies to increase compliance and reduce the build-up of unpaid arrears by working proactively with both parents and addressing the underlying impediments to payment.

The Turner case provides the opportunity to assess whether the current use of civil contempt proceedings that result in one-time purge payments or incarceration is the most effective and cost-efficient use of public dollars to obtain steady, reliable support for children, given the financial and social costs of incarceration. Many states have already recognized that the routine use of incarceration to enforce child support is costly for state budgets, reduces the likelihood of noncustodial parents obtaining gainful employment in the future, encourages participation in the underground economy, and discourages noncustodial parents from cooperating with the child support agency.6

Research conducted by child support agencies and the Department of Health and Human Services shows that setting an accurate initial order improves the chances that child support payment will continue over time. Parents are more likely to stay current on their child support payments if the support obligation is in the range of 15 to 20 percent of earnings.7 Inappropriate orders based on imputed rather than actual income discourage compliance, lead to debt and arrearage that are unmanageable, and increase the possibility of contempt. As states have found, providing frequent review and adjustment presents another opportunity to avoid unnecessary incarceration. Other practices that assist parents in meeting their child support obligations include debt management, employment programs, alternative dispute resolution and case conferencing, and self-help judicial access resources. Each of these strategies can increase compliance, resulting in more payments of support to families.

III. Promising Practices

A. Establishing Support Orders Based Upon Ability to Pay8

Research: Many states have instituted new procedures to establish more realistic orders. Setting an income-based order means that parents pay their child support more regularly over time.9 Where child support orders are not based upon the noncustodial parent’s actual ability to pay, children are less likely to receive support. High debt levels may interfere with parental involvement, increase family conflict, and reduce current support payments.10

Promising Practices: States have put in place many promising practices for setting realistic orders. These include, for example, using data sources to obtain accurate income information, limiting the use of imputed income, minimizing default orders, permitting self support reserves, developing appropriate guidelines for low-income parents, and providing enhanced case management through automated data analytics. Early intervention strategies can be used to engage parents in the child support process; early intervention initiatives, for example, include early conferences with both parents, introductory letters to explain the child support process, courtesy phone calls, and efforts to obtain agreed upon orders.11

In California, San Francisco County’s Enhanced Parental Involvement Collaboration (EPIC) program used alternative outreach strategies (such as telephone calls) which resulted in more than 70 percent of these cases having noncustodial parent participation in the order establishment process.12 Similarly, San Diego County meets with both parents early in the process to increase participation and compliance. A Colorado project shows that it was feasible for workers to reach most noncustodial parents at early stages of case processing and that routine attempts to contact and communicate were extremely beneficial. Worker-initiated outreach was associated with a significant reduction in default orders and an increase in those established by stipulation (consent of both parents). And, workers were more likely to identify income using objective data sources and parent affidavits in cases where they had telephone and/or in-person contact with noncustodial parents.13

B. Review and Adjustment

Research: Another successful strategy to encourage compliance and reduce the need for contempt is to provide frequent review and adjustment, and opportunities for modification to keep orders accurate. Using automated income to review and modify child support orders reduces the need to impute income and leads to more accurate orders.14 Because income often changes significantly over time, it is important to have policies and practices to easily adjust orders to reflect changes in income.15 Assisting parents in obtaining modified orders when there has been a loss of income, or other change in circumstance, will lead to greater compliance and avoid the unnecessary build up of arrears.

Promising Practices: States have developed several innovations to improve the review, adjustment, and modification process including the following: using automated review and adjustment via electronic systems and technology; making online forms available for parents to request a modification; targeting newly unemployed noncustodial parents for a streamlined or expedited review; instituting procedures to receive a modification for a temporary period of time; and, developing outreach materials to encourage parents to seek modifications when they have experienced a significant change in circumstances.

Alaska’s Electronic Modification system (ELMO) uses income information from sources linked electronically to the child support agency’s automated child support system to review child support orders, and reviews all current child support order amounts annually. Each month it cycles through all orders established in prior years of the same month, conducts a pre-screening of basic case eligibility, searches for income information from automated sources, and it conducts a guidelines calculation. If that calculation results in at least a 15 percent difference in the existing order amount, ELMO targets that order for a manual review. ELMO reviews an average of 3,800 cases per month, and reviews all cases with orders issued in the same month.16 Puerto Rico’s Department of Labor and Human Resource’s Unit for Dislocated Workers and Employees sponsored a “Rapid Response Task Force” that went to employers who reported anticipated layoffs, plant closures, or other matters affecting employment status and provided information about the child support process, notifying non-custodial parents to communicate with child support staff so that income withholding orders can be cancelled, and to request a modification based upon a substantial change in circumstance. Project staff located in the child support agency provided proactive services, including order modification, for these under or unemployed non-custodial parents. In 2004, more than 3,150 employees facing imminent layoffs received child support services at over 100 on-site visits.17 North Dakota and Oregon both have projects that permit temporary modifications for newly unemployed parents.

C. Debt Compromise

Research: In FY 2010, child support arrears nationwide reached $110 billion. Research shows that most of these arrears are not collectable. One study estimated that only 40 percent of child support arrears owed in seven large states were likely to be collected in 10 years.18 A California study found even more challenging results — only 26 percent of California’s arrears were found to be collectable.19 The primary reason child support arrears are so difficult to collect is because most of the arrears are owed by noncustodial parents who have little or no reported income. It is estimated that 70 percent of the child support arrears are owed by noncustodial parents with little or no reported income.20 Research also suggests that child support arrears might discourage noncustodial parents from working in the formal economy and paying child support.21

Because such a large proportion of arrears are largely uncollectable and may discourage payment, most state child support agencies have revisited their child support debt compromise policies and implemented promising practices. As of September 2011, the child support program in 24 states and the District of Columbia have implemented a debt compromise program. In 21 other states, the child support program can exercise the authority to compromise child support arrears on a case-by-case basis.

Debt compromise programs vary along many dimensions. Some only compromise interest; others compromise both principal and interest. Some target arrears-only cases; others do not restrict eligibility in this way. Some require that debtors owe a certain amount of arrears before being eligible; others do not. Some require a lump-sum payment upfront; others do not. Despite this variation, the ultimate goal of all of these programs is to reduce uncollectable debt and increase child support payments.22 This limits the need to use civil contempt as an enforcement mechanism.

Promising Practices: States child support agencies have developed innovative debt compromise programs which generally fall into one of three program types: settlement programs, incentive programs, or a hybrid approach. Each of these is discussed below.

The aim of settlement programs is to reduce uncollectable debt and collect some state-owed arrears. The primary eligibility criterion is that obligors owe uncollectable debt, which is measured in different ways by states. Settlement programs usually require a lump-sum payment upfront as part of a settlement. Thus, states are targeting obligors who are unable to pay the full amount of their debt, but they can pay some arrears upfront. Examples of states with settlement programs are California, Massachusetts and New Mexico.

California’s Compromise of Arrears Program (COAP) is the largest debt compromise program in the country. It went statewide in 2004. During its first four years of statewide implementation, it collected over $12 million and settled over $89 million in arrears.23 The key eligibility criteria are: the noncustodial parent must owe the government at least $500 in arrears and he/she cannot pay off the entire arrears balance in three years, but he/she can pay off arrears owed to the family and the negotiated amount of state-owed arrears in three years. The child support program contacts the custodial parent if arrears are owed to the family and asks if the custodial parent is willing to compromise family-owed arrears. If the custodial parent does not agree to a compromise, the full amount of the family-owed arrears must be paid as part of the COAP agreement. The local child support program monitors the agreement. If the noncustodial parent does not adhere to the terms of the agreement, the local child support program provides written notice to the noncustodial parent and files a rescission notice with the court.

Incentive programs aim at reducing uncollectable debt and increasing current support collections, with secondary goal of collecting state-owed arrears. These programs are restricted to noncustodial parents with current support orders and are often limited to low-income noncustodial parents. They require on-going current support payments in exchange for compromising state-owed debt. Lump-sum payments are not required. Examples of these programs are Maryland, Illinois, and Wisconsin.

Wisconsin conducted a pilot debt compromise program called Families Forward from 2005 to 2007 in Racine County, which was evaluated using experimental and non-experimental methods by the Institute for Research on Poverty.24 The goal of the pilot was to test whether a debt compromise program could increase child support payments to families. The design of the program was somewhat unique in that arrears where not forgiven in a lump sum after specific requirements were satisfied. Instead, Families Forward reduced state-owed debt by 50 cents for every dollar of current support paid. Participants were allowed to participate in the program for two years, regardless of their payment behavior as long as they did not go without paying current support for six consecutive months. This meant that more noncustodial parents were able to complete the program than in other programs that require compliance every month. In addition, interest was not assessed on arrears during program participation. Eligibility was limited to noncustodial parents who had owed at least $2,000 in arrears, had a recent history of nonpayment, and had a case in Racine County.

The evaluation of Families Forward found that the program was successful in reaching its goal of increasing child support payments. Participants paid on average $70 per month more than nonparticipants who had been selected using propensity score matching. In addition, the frequency of current support and arrears payments were higher among participants than nonparticipants.

A number of states have implemented a hybrid approach to debt compromise. The primary goal of these programs is to give child support programs flexibility to achieve either a settlement goal or an incentive goal. Examples of these programs are: Minnesota, Oregon, Colorado, and Vermont. Still other states have two programs, one that focuses on settling state-owed arrears and another that focuses on adjusting state-owed arrears in exchange for future child support payments (e.g. Connecticut and Massachusetts).

Minnesota has adopted a program called Strategies to Help Low-Income Families, which includes authority to address arrears accumulation. Counties develop internal guidelines for selecting cases and implementing arrears management strategies. In general, child support workers select cases with high arrears balances and factors that limit noncustodial parent ability to pay, such as prior incarceration. Agreements are developed that accept less than the full amount of permanently assigned public assistance arrears. Cases selected can be arrears-only or current support; they can involve lump sum payments or payment of current support. Debt compromise can also be undertaken without application or active participation of the noncustodial parent for such factors as periods of incarceration, birthing costs, or other fees that are no longer charged.

D. Employment Programs

Research: Approximately 25 percent of noncustodial parents have a limited ability to pay child support.25 Most of these fathers and their nonresident children live in poverty. Traditional child support enforcement tools, such as wage withholding, license revocation, and other administrative actions, are typically unsuccessful with this population, and can undermine employment retention. The underlying problem for some parents is that they face multiple employment barriers and cannot find or maintain a job.

To address these issues, states and communities have implemented work-oriented programs for unemployed noncustodial parents who are behind in their child support. As of September 2011, there were at least 28 states with at least 38 work-oriented programs for noncustodial parents in which a child support program was involved. These programs vary in many ways, but the ultimate goal is the same — increase the likelihood that noncustodial parents are working and paying child support. Successful workforce programs reduce the likelihood of civil contempt and are an appropriate alternative to incarceration.

Promising Practices: Child support agencies have pursued three program models — court-ordered programs, voluntary programs, and transitional jobs programs. The first two models have been evaluated using rigorous non-experimental methods and that research shows these programs can work — they can increase noncustodial parents’ employment and child support payments. The third model is currently being tested by the U.S. Department of Labor.

Court-Ordered Programs. Many states operate “jobs not jail” programs, where unemployed noncustodial parents who are behind in their child support are court-ordered into a work-oriented program. The underlying premise of these programs is that ordering unemployed noncustodial parents into a work-oriented program is a better alternative to ordering jail time or a seek work order. Incarceration is more expensive than work-oriented programs and it reduces a person’s ability to find work after they are released. “Seek work” orders do not help parents find work and they do not provide a mechanism for the court to monitor a parent’s job search.

The key services offered by the court-ordered employment programs are employment services and case management. Although the primary employment service is job search assistance, most of these programs go beyond that if a client needs it. If necessary, they will develop job leads and help place individuals into jobs. They will also help with retention issues. Model case management typically consists of assessment, follow-up meetings with the client until employment is secured, monitoring after that to see that employment is retained, and keeping the court and child support program informed of progress.

Problem-solving courts are similar to “jobs not jail” programs in that they are court-ordered programs, but they tend to offer a continuum of services to address the needs of noncustodial parents who are behind in their child support rather than just employment programs.26 The court system is usually the lead agency in these programs and the court creates a specialized docket to manage the program. Although initial evidence of court-ordered employment programs yielded mixed results, more recent evidence suggests that these programs work — they increase employment and child support payments.27

Texas operates a court-ordered program, called NCP Choices, which has been evaluated using a non-experimental method called propensity score matching, which compares the outcomes of participants to non-participants who have similar characteristics. This evaluation showed that, relative to the non-participants with similar characteristics, the noncustodial parents who were ordered into NCP Choices paid their child support more often, paid more per month, and paid more consistently over time. They were employed at higher rate, were less likely to file an unemployment claim, and custodial parents were less likely to receive TANF benefits in the several years after the program.28 More recently, Texas added a fatherhood curriculum, taught in a peer support format, and began operating the NCP Choices program at the time of order establishment. Both of these enhancements increased child support payments.29

Voluntary Programs. A different approach to offering employment programs for unemployed noncustodial parents is for child support programs to partner with a workforce agency or fatherhood program that offers employment services. Services are not court-ordered, and referrals are not usually from the family court, but rather are made directly by the child support agency as part of a partnership with the workforce or TANF agency or community colleges. If the family court does refer individuals to these programs, they are not court-ordered into the program. The services provided by these programs are similar to those provided by court-ordered programs. Both programs focus on workforce development services and case management. However, voluntary programs tend to provide more intensive employment services and are more likely to include a fatherhood component than court-ordered programs. While participation in the workforce program is voluntary, the child support enforcement component continues.

The role of the child support agency varies in these programs, from leading the program to a more supportive role. Child support agencies have taken a lead role in a voluntary program -- contracting with a workforce development firm, deciding who will be served and what services will be provided, managing the flow of participants, and ensuring the quality of services. Some child support agencies play a supportive role by verifying eligibility, providing one-on-one child support services, being part of a case management team, and conducting child support workshops.

New York operated a voluntary employment-oriented fatherhood program for several years as part of the New York Strengthening Families through Stronger Fathers Initiative. The authorizing legislation specifically said that the pilot programs had to target unemployed, low-income noncustodial parents in the child support program and they had to be voluntary and offer intensive employment services, other support services and parenting services. The New York Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance contracted with five agencies to conduct the pilot programs. These programs operated in four cities and served 3,700 people over a three year period.

An evaluation of the New York pilot employment programs showed that they were quite successful. They increased the participants’ earnings by 22 percent and the participants’ child support payments by 38 percent during the first year after enrollment.30 Other research examining the FATHER Project in Minnesota shows that noncustodial parents who participate in employment programs are more likely to find work and pay taxes than noncustodial parents who do not receive services.31

Transitional Jobs Programs. Recently, some programs have begun to offer transitional jobs to unemployed noncustodial parents. A transitional job is a temporary, paid work experience, which is paid for with public funds and intended to improve participants’ employability in the unsubsidized labor market. This type of employment service is usually targeted to individuals who are considered hard-to-serve, such as long-term TANF recipients, ex-offenders, and disadvantaged noncustodial parents. Research shows that transitional jobs programs have successfully increased unsubsidized employment among TANF recipients and decreased recidivism among ex-offenders.32 The U.S. Department of Labor is currently undertaking a national demonstration called the Enhanced Transitional Jobs Demonstration, which is providing transitional jobs to ex-offenders and noncustodial parents in seven sites.

E. Alternative Dispute Resolution and Case Conferencing

Research: “Alternative dispute resolution (ADR)” refers to a process by which both parents are involved in reaching a voluntary resolution of their case. Case conferencing is one form of ADR in which both parents meet with a trained child support staff member to reach an agreement on their child support case. Case conferencing is one innovative strategy used to encourage parents to agree upon a child support order.33 Mediation, which involves a neutral third-party, is another form of ADR, than can be useful to avoid incarceration and the unnecessary use of civil contempt.

Promising Practices: Many states have sought to reduce the adversarial nature of child support proceedings in order to positively engage both parents, reduce conflict between the parents which can be harmful to their children, increase compliance with support orders, and improve customer satisfaction. Pre-hearing conferences also provide an opportunity to address any domestic violence concerns that may be implicated through seeking incarceration. ADR can be used so that orders accurately reflect the parents’ unique circumstances. Additional benefits of ADR include that parents understand the process, understand what they are supposed to do, and feel like they are heard and their questions are answered. For example, in the San Diego Early Intervention program, which includes case conferencing, the stipulation rate has risen dramatically, thanks in part to reaching out to the parents very early in the process, inviting parents to come into the child support office, and making more than one attempt to reach parents. States have found that where it can be done safely, mediation and case conferencing can be useful tools in resolving disputes without using civil contempt.

Texas was among the first to use case conferencing.34 Known as the Child Support Review Process (CSRP), parents are invited to meet with specially trained child support staff at the child support office. At the conference, parents are educated about their rights and responsibilities and attempt to work out an order. Parents are not required to agree on an order at the conference. Parents’ active participation in case conferencing helps assure that the agreements accurately reflect the family’s circumstances and financial situation. Case conferencing can be efficient and cost-effective. For example, in Texas, for FY 2010, almost 64,000 orders were obtained through CSRP and about 61,000 through the traditional court process. It took less than 20 days on average to resolve a case using case conferencing, compared to 100 days for cases in the court system. Texas also estimates that it cost slightly less than half as much to establish an order through CSRP as it does to establish an order through the courts. Additionally, cases handled through CSRP showed 17 percent higher compliance with child support payments than orders created in the court system. Preliminary data from Santa Cruz, California shows that the collection rate is higher in cases resolved via stipulation.35

Other states with case-conference models are Colorado, New Mexico, and Massachusetts. In addition, some tribal programs, such as the Navajo Nation, rely on conferencing models that reflect their tribal traditions.36 Moreover, the use of administrative procedures, rather than seeking judicial action, may reduce the need for civil contempt.

F. Access to Justice Innovations

Although actual representation by a lawyer is not constitutionally required in many circumstances, Turner highlighted the need for increased legal assistance and information, particularly for pro se (unrepresented) parents.37 Most custodial and noncustodial parents in the IV-D caseload are not represented by private attorneys and are attempting to navigate legal proceedings on a pro se basis. At the same time, providing information helps ensure that parents understand the child support process, know what to expect in a hearing, and provide accurate financial information. As states have experienced, this may lead to more accurate orders which will have greater compliance, and greater buy-in by parents, thus limiting the need for civil contempt proceedings.

There are a number of Access to Justice initiatives to assist pro se litigants. These include, for example, the use of court facilitators, self-help hotlines and centers, and online tools. Access to justice programs may be offered by child-support agencies, the courts, or the legal services community, including pro bono lawyers. A variety of pro se services are often offered together. For example, the Kentucky Child Support Enforcement, Jefferson County Attorney’s Office and the Legal Aid Society developed online legal information in which parents are directed to off-site services, which includes online video tutorials on child support processes and access to ready-made forms and child support worksheet calculators.38 These initiatives, which often facilitate child support modifications, offer an appropriate alternative to incarceration and help reduce the need to use civil contempt.

Court Facilitators. Court facilitators may provide a range of services, such as offering legal information, advice, or providing parents the opportunity to negotiate to reach a resolution on their dispute. Each county in California has an Office of Family Law Facilitator, a cooperative arrangement between the Administrative Office of the Courts and the Department of Child Support Services. The attorney facilitators help demystify courtroom procedures and humanize the court system, and provide assistance in child support matters.39 In Washington, the Family Law Courthouse Facilitators, who are attorneys, provide basic services to pro se litigants, including referrals to legal and social services resources, assistance in calculating child support, assistance in completing court forms, explanation of legal terms, information on basic court procedures and logistics, and attendance at pro se hearings.40

Self-Help Hotlines and Centers. Self-help hotlines and centers provide brief legal assistance and information without providing actual legal representation. Self-help centers typically help unrepresented litigants fill out court forms.41 Frequently, attorneys are involved in providing legal information to parents. For example, in Texas, Legal Aid of Northwest Texas, in partnership with the Texas Office of the Attorney General, has a hotline staffed by attorneys who answer questions from parents about child support.42 Hotline attorneys aim to facilitate establishment of agreed-upon orders, reduce parental conflict and misunderstandings, ensure that orders are “right-sized,” prevent default orders, and promote positive co-parenting. In Hennepin County, Minnesota, the self-help center offers a workshop for clients interested in filing a child support modification, and staff meet with clients after the class to answer questions about their situation.43

In Washington, DC, a collaboration between Bread for the City, Legal Aid Society of DC, and the DC Bar Pro Bono Program provides pro bono representation and legal information and advice to individuals with child support cases. Attorneys are placed in the courts, enabling them to provide same-day representation for parents, often resulting in the establishment or modification of appropriate orders. Parents are also able to use the court-run D.C. Family Court Self-Help Center to obtain legal information regarding child support cases.44

Online Tools. Many child support agencies have used online tools to provide information, such as materials explaining the child support process and/or how to modify a child support order. For example, Washington provides a “Quick Help Guide” that provides important child support information online.45 The Minnesota Department of Human Services, Child Support Enforcement Division has a project that targets simplification and streamlining of child support orders by changing policies, forms and procedures in order to expedite the review and modification process and applying technical supports to the pro se process. The project targets high-impact, low-cost improvements for families in less complicated circumstances (e.g., prison, public assistance and disability). The electronic pro se modification website successfully completed a 3-month pilot, and the grantees developed a modification informational brochure and guide book, now available online.46

In addition to information, many states have child support court forms available online. These online forms are court-approved legal documents that can be filled out, printed, and taken to the courthouse for filing. Court websites often contain links to these materials. More sophisticated automated online tools may assist the parent in actually filling out the court filing online, though a program much like Turbo Tax, guided by “A2J” interview software.47 New York already uses this software and South Carolina is developing it.48 The South Carolina modification process is being developed through the collaborative effort of the South Carolina Center for Fathers and Families, the South Carolina Department of Social Services Child Support Enforcement Division, South Carolina Court Administration, South Carolina Access to Justice Commission, South Carolina Bar Foundation, and South Carolina Legal Services.

Child support agencies can help assure a just child support processes by making sure that their processes, whether administrative or judicial, are simple and easy to follow. Additionally, by collaborating with their judiciary, state or local Access to Justice Commissions,49 and bar associations, child support agencies can play a critical role in developing materials and other appropriate procedural safeguards for unrepresented litigants.

G. Conclusion

Many child support programs have implemented innovative strategies to increase child support compliance and respond to the needs of the families in the child support system. These promising practices and access to justice initiatives provide effective strategies to improve child support outcomes and reduce the need for incarceration.

INQUIRIES: Please contact your ACF/OCSE Regional Program Manager if you have any questions.


Vicki Turetsky
Office of Child Support Enforcement


1Turner v. Rogers, 564 U.S. ___, 131 S. Ct. 2507 (2011).

2 See OCSE PAID fact sheets Establishing and Maintaining Realistic Child Support Orders; Providing Expedited Review and Modification Assistance; Access to Justice Innovations; and, Realistic Child Support Orders for Incarcerated Parents.

3 Elaine Sorensen, Lillian Sousa, and Simone Schafer, Assessing Child Support Arrears in Nine Large States and the Nation, Urban Institute, 2007.

4 Nancy Thoennes, Child Support Profile: Massachusetts Incarcerated and Paroled Parents, Center for Policy Research, 2002.

5 The Pew Charitable Trusts, Collateral Costs: Incarceration’s Effect on Economic Mobility, 2010. Steve Christian, Children of Incarcerated Parents, National Conference of State Legislatures, 2009.

6 Jeremy Travis, Elizabeth Cincotta McBride, and Amy Solomon, Families Left Behind: The Hidden Costs of Incarceration and Reentry, Urban Institute, Justice Policy Center, 2007. Elizabeth Patterson, Civil Contempt and the Indigent Child Support Obligor: The Silent Return of Debtor’s Prison, Cornell Journal of Law and Social Policy 18:95-141, 2008.

7 Mark Takayesu, How Do Child Support Order Amounts Affect Payments and Compliance?, Orange County Child Support Services, 2011. Carl Formoso, Determining the Composition and Collectability of Child Support Arrearages, Washington Department of Social and Health Services, Division of Child Support, 2003. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Inspector General, The Establishment of Child Support Orders for Low Income Non-custodial Parents, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services,OEI-05-99-00390, 2000.

8 See OCSE PAID fact sheet, Establishing and Maintaining Realistic Child Support Orders.

9 Mark Takayesu, How Do Child Support Order Amounts Affect Payments and Compliance? , Orange County Child Support Services, 2011. Carl Formoso, Determining the Composition and Collectability of Child Support Arrearages, Washington Department of Social and Health Services, Division of Child Support, 2003.

10 Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Child Support Enforcement, Child Access and Visitation Programs: Participant Outcomes, 2006. Jessica Pearson, Building Debt While Doing Time: Child Support and Incarceration, The Judges’ Journal Vol. 43, 2004.

11 Kay MacCambell, Tennessee’s 4th Judicial District Child Support Office Tests Methods for Workers Statewide, Child Support Report, July 2010.

12 San Francisco County, Enhanced Parental Involvement Collaboration (EPIC) originated as a 17-month Office of Child Support Enforcement Special Improvement Project (SIP) grant in 2004.

13 Reducing Default Orders in Child Support Cases in Colorado originated as a 17-month Office of Child Support Enforcement Section 1115 grant and ended in 2006.

14 U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Using Automated Data Systems To Establish and Modify Child Support Orders, November 2006.

15 Yoonsook Ha, Maria Cancian, and Daniel Meyer, Unchanging Child Support Orders in the Face of Unstable Earnings, Journal of Policy Analysis and Management, Vol. 29, Is. 4, Fall 2010.

16 U.S. Department of Health and Human Services , Automated Systems for Child Support Enforcement, A Guide for Enhancing Review and Adjustment Automation, July 2006.

17 Jens Feck, Avoiding and Collecting Arrears: Good Ideas from the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, Child Support Report, July 2004.

18 Elaine Sorensen, Liliana Sousa, and Simone Schaner, Assessing Child Support Arrears in Nine Large States and the Nation, Urban Institute, 2007.

19 Elaine Sorensen, Heather Koball, Kate Pomper, and Chava Zibman, Examining Child Support Arrears in California: The Collectibility Study, Urban Institute, 2003.

20 Elaine Sorensen, Liliana Sousa, and Simone Schaner, Assessing Child Support Arrears in Nine Large States and the Nation, Urban Institute, 2007.

21 Maria Cancian, Carolyn Heinrich, and Yiyoon Chung, Does Debt Discourage Employment and Payment of Child Support? Evidence from a Natural Experiment, Institute for Research on Poverty, 2009.

22 For additional information about state debt compromise programs, see U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Inspector General, State Use of Debt Compromise to Reduce Child Support Arrearages, OEI-06-06-00070, 2007.

23 California Department of Child Support Services, Compromise of Arrears Program Report to the Legislature, California Department of Child Support Services, 2008.

24 Carolyn Heinrich, Brett Burkhardt, and Hilary Shager, Reducing Child Support Debt and Its Consequences: Can Forgiveness Benefit All?, Journal of Policy Analysis and Management, 30(4); 755—774, 2011.

25 Elaine Sorensen and Helen Oliver, Policy Reforms are Needed to Increase Child Support from Poor Fathers, Urban Institute, 2002.

26 Judge Jim Rausch and Judge Tom Rawlings, Integrating Problem-Solving Court Practices Into the Child Support Docket, National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges, 2008.

27 Parents’ Fair Share (PFS) was a national random assignment demonstration of a court-ordered employment program for unemployed noncustodial parents who had children receiving public assistance conducted in seven sites from 1994 to 1996. Although this program increased child support payments, it did not increase the employment or earnings of the treatment group during the 24-month follow-up period. Cynthia Miller and Virginia Knox, The Challenge of Helping Low-Income Fathers Support Their Children: Final Lessons from Parents’ Fair Share, Manpower Demonstration Research Corporation, 2001. More recent non-experimental evaluations of court-ordered programs have shown more promising results. See, for example, Irma Perez-Johnson, Jacqueline Kauff, and Alan Hershey, Giving Noncustodial Parents Options: Employment and Child support Outcomes of the SHARE program, Mathematica Policy Research, 2003.

28 Daniel Schroeder and Nicholas Doughty, Texas Non-Custodial Parent Choices: Program Impact Analysis, Ray Marshall Center for the Study of Human Resources, Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs, The University of Texas at Austin, 2009.

29 Daniel Schroeder, Kimberly Walker, and Amna Khan, Non-Custodial Parent Choices PEER Pilot: Impact Report, Ray Marshall Center for the Study of Human Resources, Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs, The University of Texas at Austin, 2011. Daniel Schroeder and Amna Khan, Non-Custodial Parent Choices Establishment Pilot: Impact Report, Ray Marshall Center for the Study of Human Resources, Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs, The University of Texas at Austin, 2011.

30 Kye Lippold and Elaine Sorensen, Strengthening Families Through Stronger Fathers: Final Impact Report for the Pilot Employment Programs, Urban Institute, 2011.

31 Jose Diaz and Richard Chase, Return on Investment to the FATHER Project, Wilder Research, 2010.

32 Cindy Redcross, Megan Millenky, Timothy Rudd, and Valerie Levshin, More Than a Job: Final Results from the Evaluation of the Center for Employment Opportunities Transition Jobs Program, Manpower Demonstration Research Corporation, 2012.

33 Elaine Sorensen and Tess Tannehil, Preventing Child Support Arrears in Texas by Improving Front-end Processes, Urban Institute, 2006.

34 Cynthia Bryant, Case conferences: a better way to reach agreements, Child Support Report, March 2012. Other jurisdictions, including Colorado, Massachusetts and some California counties, have streamlined their processes for obtaining agreements using case conferences.

35 Cynthia Bryant, Kathy Sokolik, Jennifer Hellerud, Resolved: Engage Parents & Streamline Processes to Improve Performance, NCSEA presentation, 2012.

36 Susan Greenblatt, Dispute Resolution: Texas Project Creating More Responsible, Healthier Families, Child Support Report, January 2010.

37 Richard Zorza, A New Day for Judges and the Self-Represented: The Implications of Turner v. Rogers, The Judges’ Journal, Vol. 50, Number 4, Fall 2011.

38 For the videos and self-help services, see Visit disclaimer page . The state child support office has online tools as well: See Visit disclaimer page

39 Visit disclaimer page

40 WASH. CT. R. GR 27 (2012).

41 Visit disclaimer page .

42 For this, and other OCSE grant-funded activities, please see: /programs/css/grants

43Promising Practices. Hennepin County, Minnesota Self Help Center, Child Support Report, February 2010.

44 Visit disclaimer page

45 (PDF) Visit disclaimer page

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47 For examples of state resources, see Visit disclaimer page . Visit disclaimer page shows forms available with the A2J software.

48 For the New York form, please see Visit disclaimer page or Visit disclaimer page

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