Major Change in Who is Owed Child Support Arrears

Story Behind the Numbers - Child Support Fact Sheet #4

Publication Date: March 31, 2014

Three bar charts with kid imagesThis fact sheet examines changes in who is owed child support arrears over the past 10 years. The Child Support Program has experienced a major change in who is owed child support arrears. In November 2002, 51% of arrears were owed to the government. In November, 2013, only 26 percent were owed to the government.

Child support arrears represents the amount of child support that remains unpaid.  It is owned either to the custodial family or the government.  The government is owed arrears because when families apply for Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) cash assistance, they are required to sign over to the state their right to child support.  Any child support owed while the family receives TANF cash assistance is owed to the government.  The amount that goes unpaid is referred to as TANF arrears.

The fact sheet findings reflect the continued transformation of the child support program, from a welfare cost recovery program to one that focuses on family support.  The shift in who is owed arrears, from the government to custodial families, is a by-product of this transformation.  Going forward, states may want to consider broadening their debt management strategies to include debt owed to custodial families since most arrears are now owed to them.


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