Reducing child support debt and its consequences: Can forgiveness benefit all?

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Abstract

As child support debt owed nationally persists at enormous levels, both noncustodial parents and the custodial families who are not receiving support suffer significant hardships, and states are forced to expend greater resources on collection and enforcement efforts. This paper presents findings from an evaluation of a demonstration program developed to help noncustodial parents with large child support debts reduce their debt while simultaneously increasing child support paid to families, through gradual forgiveness of arrears conditional on payment of current child support obligations. The evaluation employs a randomized experimental design, nonexperimental analyses using propensity score matching and multilevel modeling techniques, and focus groups and follow-up interviews. Results show a pattern of effects that suggests individuals responded to the program as intended. State- and family-owed child support debt balances decreased for program participants, and participants paid more toward their child support obligations and arrears and made more frequent child support payments. The study findings suggest promise for the effectiveness of this program model in reducing child support debt burdens and in increasing families' receipt of child support, and they also point to ways in which the implementation of the program might be improved. © 2011 by the Association for Public Policy Analysis and Management.

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