I. THE DEVELOPMENT, AIMS, AND RESULTS OF U.S. CHILD SUPPORT POLICY
Ensuring that child support orders are entered and enforced against nonresident, “deadbeat”
has been a guiding principle of U.S. support law for the past half century. Current law and
practice generally derives from a federal initiative, inaugurated in 1975, designed to raise support
values and increase the likelihood that a support award would be paid. This initiative stemmed from
sharp increases both in the number of single-parent families
and in the cost of public assistance to
Due to similar demographic shifts and increased public-assistance burdens, many
other industrialized nations initiated comparable changes in child support law and practice during
the same period.
The ﬁrst major U.S. legislation, enacted by Congress in 1975, established the federal Ofﬁce of
Child Support Enforcement (OCSE) and required the states to create their own child support
enforcement agencies as a condition of receiving reimbursement for public assistance to needy chil-
dren and their families (Aid to Families with Dependent Children [AFDC]).
The new federal law
required parents (typically mothers) applying for AFDC beneﬁts to assign their child support claims
to the state as a condition of receiving assistance. It required the new support agencies (popularly
described as IV-D agencies because they originated in Title IV-D of the federal Social Security
Act) to establish support obligations for absent parents of federal-supported children, collect support
from those parents, and provide a parent-locator service equipped to search state and local records
for information on parents who could not be found. To reduce applications for public assistance,
the 1975 law also made IV-D services available to all parents who paid a reasonable fee.
The 1975 requirements were expanded by the Child Support Enforcement Amendments of 1984
and Family Support Act of 1988.
These new laws required the states to change the method
by which child support orders were calculated. Support determination had previously relied primarily
on judicial discretion to produce an award value; under the new federal rules, states were required to
adopt guidelines that took into account “all earnings and income of the absent parent”and used “spe-
ciﬁc descriptive and numeric criteria”to produce a presumptive award value.
CSEA also required
the states to add new enforcement weapons to their arsenals, including immediate wage withholding,
the imposition of liens against nonpaying obligors, the deduction of unpaid support from federal and
state income tax refunds, and statutes of limitation permitting the establishment of paternity up to
eighteen years after a child’s birth. This package of requirements was further expanded by the Per-
sonal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996,
which mandated innova-
tions in paternity establishment, expanded informational resources used for parent locating, required
certain expedited procedures for routine cases, and provided funds for programs to improve unem-
ployed fathers’job prospects and to support fathers’access to their children.
In response to these various federal mandates, state child support law and practice have shifted
dramatically. Before the 1975 law was enacted, parents seeking support were invariably forced to
ﬁnd the obligor parent themselves and to pay for legal assistance in establishing and/or enforcing a
support award; today, 50–60% of all support orders are obtained through the IV-D program.
Before federally required innovations in paternity establishment, paternity was often not established;
indeed, in 1979, the ratio of paternities established by IV-D ofﬁces to the number of nonmarital
births was .19.
Today, paternity is established in 100% of IV-D cases.
The shift in law and prac-
tice has also dramatically increased child support collections. In ﬁscal year 1977, state IV-D agen-
cies served fewer than a million cases and collected less than $1 billion. In ﬁscal year 2015, these
same agencies served nearly 16 million children and collected $28.6 billion.
Increased child support collections serve a range of goals. Child support payments lift approxi-
mately a million family members out of poverty every year.
Because of child support’s positive
effects on labor supply, welfare participation, fertility, and marriage decisions, every dollar of sup-
port paid also lifts the household income of recipient families by a much larger amount.
over, because fathers who pay child support are more likely to spend time with their children,
possible that the federal child support program has increased parent–child contact for at least some
522 FAMILY COURT REVIEW