Child Support Enforcement: Program Basics




Child Support Enforcement: Program Basics
Updated January 6, 2021
Congressional Research Service
https://crsreports.congress.gov
RS22380




Child Support Enforcement: Program Basics

Summary
The Child Support Enforcement (CSE) program was enacted in 1975 as a federal-state program
(Title IV-D of the Social Security Act). The primary purpose of this program was to reduce public
expenditures for recipients of cash assistance by obtaining ongoing support from noncustodial
parents that could be used to reimburse the state and federal governments for part of that
assistance. (This purpose often is referred to as “welfare cost-recovery.”) Relatedly, the program
also sought to strengthen families by securing financial support for children from their
noncustodial parents on a consistent and continuing basis to enable some of those families to
remain self-sufficient and off public assistance. Over the years, CSE has evolved into a
multifaceted program. While welfare cost-recovery stil remains an important function of the
program, its other aspects include service delivery and promotion of self-sufficiency and parental
responsibility. The CSE program has different rules for assistance families (e.g., those receiving
cash benefits under the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program; TANF) and non-
assistance families.
The CSE program provides seven major services on behalf of children: (1) parent location, (2)
paternity establishment, (3) establishment of child support orders, (4) review and modification of
child support orders, (5) collection of child support payments, (6) distribution of child support
payments, and (7) establishment and enforcement of medical support.
The CSE program has a vast array of enforcement methods at its disposal. Most child support
payments are collected from noncustodial parents through income withholding. Other methods of
enforcement include intercepting federal and state income tax refunds; intercepting
unemployment compensation; filing liens against property; sending insurance settlement
information to CSE agencies; intercepting lottery winnings, judgments, or settlements; seizing
debtor parent assets held by public or private retirement funds and financial institutions;
withholding, suspending, or restricting driver’s licenses, professional or occupational licenses,
and recreational or sporting licenses; and denying, revoking, or restricting passports.
The CSE program is funded via a number of sources. The program is a federal-state matching
grant program under which states must spend money in order to receive federal funding. For
every dollar a state spends on CSE expenditures, it general y is reimbursed 66 cents from the
federal government. This reimbursement requirement is “open ended,” in that there is no upper
limit or ceiling on the federal government’s match of those expenditures. In addition to matching
funds, states receive CSE incentive payments from the federal government. States also collect
child support on behalf of families receiving TANF assistance to reimburse themselves (and the
federal government) for the cost of that assistance to the family. Final y, fees and costs recovered,
also help finance the CSE program.
In FY2019, the CSE program paid to families $27.6 bil ion in child support collections and
served nearly 13.6 mil ion child support cases. The program collects 66% of current child support
obligations for which it has responsibility (20% if payments on past-due child support are taken
into account), and collects payments for 63% of its caseload. In FY2019, total CSE expenditures
amounted to $6.0 bil ion. On average, in FY2019 the CSE program collected $5.06 in child
support payments for each $1 spent on the program.
In recent years, CSE programs have been increasingly concerned with the issues of noncustodial
parent access to and engagement with their children. The $10 mil ion per year CSE Access and
Visitation Grants Program, issues related to parenting time agreements, and the $75 mil ion per
year Responsible Fatherhood Program (administered elsewhere within HHS) are described in the
final section of the report.
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Contents
Background.................................................................................................................... 1
Program Elements ........................................................................................................... 3
Parent Location ......................................................................................................... 3
Paternity Establishment .............................................................................................. 5
Establishment of Child Support Orders ......................................................................... 6
Review and Modification of Support Orders .................................................................. 7
Enforcement ............................................................................................................. 7

Financing ................................................................................................................. 8
Collection and Disbursement ..................................................................................... 10
Distribution of Support ............................................................................................. 10

Noncustodial Parent Access to and Engagement with their Children...................................... 11
Access and Visitation Grants and Parenting Time Agreements ........................................ 11
Responsible Fatherhood Programs.............................................................................. 12

Tables
Table 1. Preliminary Child Support Data—FY2019 .............................................................. 2
Table 2. State Child Support Case Registry: Selected Data Elements ....................................... 3

Contacts
Author Information ....................................................................................................... 13
Acknowledgments......................................................................................................... 13

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Child Support Enforcement: Program Basics

Background
In general, child support is the cash payment that noncustodial parents are obligated to pay for the
financial support of their children. These payments enable parents who do not live with their
children to fulfil their financial responsibility to them by contributing to childrearing costs. Child
support orders general y are established when parents divorce or separate, or when the custodial
parent applies for certain public benefits.
The Child Support Enforcement (CSE) program, Part D of Title IV of the Social Security Act,
was enacted on January 4, 1975 (P.L. 93-647).1 The CSE program is administered by the Office of
Child Support Enforcement (OCSE) in the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS),
and receives mandatory funding each fiscal year in the Departments of Labor, Health and Human
Services, and Education, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act. Al 50 states, the District of
Columbia, Guam, Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, and 61 tribal nations operate CSE programs
and are entitled to federal matching funds.2 The CSE program is estimated to handle the majority
of al child support cases;3 the remaining cases are handled by private attorneys, collection
agencies, or through mutual agreements between the parents.
Under federal law, families receiving cash benefits through the Temporary Assistance for Needy
Families (TANF) program (Title IV-A of the Social Security Act) or Medicaid coverage (Title
XIX of the Social Security Act)—and, at state option, families receiving Supplemental Nutrition
Assistance Program (SNAP) assistance—are required to cooperate with the CSE program as a
condition of receiving benefits.4 These “assistance” families are not charged for CSE services.
Collections on behalf of families receiving cash TANF benefits are used, in part, to reimburse
state and federal governments for the TANF payments made to the family. Other families must
apply for CSE services, and states must charge al non-assistance families an annual user fee that
cannot exceed $35.5 Child support collected by CSE agencies on behalf of non-TANF families
goes to the family, usual y through the state disbursement unit.

1 T he CSE statute is found in Sections 451 through 469B of the Social Security Act (42 U.S.C. §651 through §669b).
T he CSE federal regulations are found in 45 C.F.R. §301 through §310.
2 States were historically required to provide CSE services to Indian tribes and tribal organizations as part of their CSE
caseloads. T ribes were not specifically included in the CSE statute until the Personal Responsibility and Work
Opportunity Reconciliat ion Act of 1996 (P.L. 104-193, referred to in this report as the “ 1996 welfare reform law”),
although several tribes had previously negotiated agreements (e.g., informal, cooperative, intergovernmental, and joint
powers) with some states in a mutual effort to serve Native American children. Section 456(f) of the Social Security
Act allows direct federal funding of approved tribal CSE programs. In general, Native American chi ldren living on
Indian reservations that have a tribal CSE program are covered by that specific tribal CSE program; Native American
children who do not live on Indian reservations are covered by the state’s CSE program.
3 Elaine Sorensen, Arthur Pashi, and Melody Morales, Characteristics of Families Served by the Child Support (IV-D)
Program : 2016 Census Survey Results
, Office of Child Support Enforcement, November 2018, p. 3,
https://www.acf.hhs.gov/sites/default/files/programs/css/iv_d_characteristics_2016_census_results.pdf.
4 In addition, families who are required by the state Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) to coo perate
with the CSE agency automatically qualify for CSE services free of charge. One or both parents of a child who is
placed in foster care may be ordered to pay child support, but the determination of whether this requirement should be
made is left up t o the state child welfare agency. Section 471(a)(17) of the Social Security Act requires the child
welfare agency “where appropriate” to secure assignment of child support rights on behalf of any child receiving foster
care support pursuant to T itle IV-E of the Social Security Act. However, the establishment of a child support order is
not a condition of T itle IV-E foster care support.
5 Roughly half of states have opted to require that the custodial parent cooperate with the CSE program as a condition
of receiving child care subsidies (see HHS, Office of the Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation, Child
Support Cooperation Requirem ents in Child Care Subsidy Program s and SNAP: Key Policy Considerations
,”
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Child support payments collected by CSE agencies increased from $1 bil ion in FY1978 to $28.8
bil ion in FY2019.6 Over the same period, the number of children whose paternity was
established or acknowledged each year increased from 111,000 to 1.401 mil ion. The program
stil collects 20% of child support obligations for which it has responsibility if payments on past-
due child support (i.e., “arrearages”) are taken into account (otherwise, 66%)7 and collects
payments for 63% of its caseload. In FY2019, total CSE expenditures amounted to $6.0 bil ion.
On average, in FY2019 the CSE program collected $5.06 in child support payments for each $1
spent on the program.
Table 1, below, provides FY2019 data on the CSE program, including total collections and
expenditures, caseload numbers, and the number of paternities and child support orders
established. The balance of this report describes each of the major program elements of the CSE
program. It also includes a discussion of CSE Access and Visitation Grants, issues related to
parenting time agreements, and the Responsible Fatherhood Program (administered elsewhere
within HHS).
Table 1. Preliminary Child Support Data—FY2019
Total CSE caseload
Total, 13.6 mil ion; TANF families, 1.2 mil ion; former-TANF families, 5.6 mil ion; never-
TANF families
, 6.8 mil ion
Total CSE col ections
Total, $28.767 bil ion; TANF families, $0.653 bil ion; former-TANF, $8.322 bil ion; never-
TANF
, $10.712 bil ion (plus $9.080 bil ion on behalf of Medicaid-only families)

Payments to families
Total, $27.608 bil ion; TANF, $0.114 bil ion; former-TANF, $7.511 bil ion; never-TANF,
$10.549 bil ion (plus $8.716 bil ion on behalf of Medicaid-only families); in addition,
$625 mil ion in medical support, $93 mil ion passed through to current TANF families,
and $2 mil ion passed through to former TANF families
Federal share of TANF
$613 mil ion
col ections
State share of TANF
$487 mil ion
col ections
Medical support
$625 mil ion
payments
Total CSE expenditures
$6.012 bil ion; federal share, $3.618 bil ion, state share, $2.394 bil ion
Incentive payments to
$496 mil ion
states (estimated)
Paternities established and
1,401,272
acknowledged
Cases for which support
837,554 (includes only new orders; excludes modifications)
orders were established
Cases for which
Total, 8,593,759: TANF, 407,941; former-TANF, 3,441,221; never-TANF, 4,744,597
col ections were made

November 1, 2018, https://aspe.hhs.gov/pdf-report/child-support-cooperation-requirements-child-care-subsidy-
programs-and-snap-key-policy-considerations). If a state opts to exempt these families from the annual user fee, they
must reimburse the federal government its portion of the fees that otherwise would have been collected.
6 Unless otherwise noted, all FY2019 data in this report is from the Office of Child Support Enforcement (HHS),
FY2019 Prelim inary Data Report, Departm ent of Health and Hum an Services, https://www.acf.hhs.gov/css/resource/
fy-2019-preliminary-data-report.
7 In FY2019, $151.0 billion in child support obligations ($33.4 billion in current support and $117,7 billion in past-due
support) was owed to families receiving CSE services, but $ 29.8 billion was paid ($22.0 billion current, $7.8 billion
past-due; numbers do not add due to rounding).
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Source: Table prepared by the Congressional Research Service, based on data from the Office of Child Support
Enforcement (HHS), FY2019 Preliminary Data Report, available at https://www.acf.hhs.gov/css/resource/fy-2019-
preliminary-data-report.
Note: Numbers may not add due to rounding.
Program Elements
The CSE program provides seven major services on behalf of children: (1) parent location, (2)
paternity establishment, (3) establishment of child support orders, (4) review and modification of
child support orders, (5) collection of child support payments, (6) distribution of child support
payments, and (7) establishment and enforcement of medical support.8
Parent Location
If a state’s CSE program cannot locate the noncustodial parent with the information provided by
the custodial parent, it must try to locate the noncustodial parent through the State Parent Locator
Service (SPLS). The SPLS in each state is an assembly of systems that includes the State Child
Support Case Registry and the State Directory of New Hires. The automated State Child Support
Case Registry, as required by federal law, contains records of each case in which CSE services are
being provided and al new or modified child support orders. The registry includes information on
the case, the child or children in the case, and both parents, as listed in Table 2.
Table 2. State Child Support Case Registry: Selected Data Elements
Information on the
Information on Both
Case Information
Child(ren)
Parents

case identification number

name

name

case status

date of birth

date of birth

child support owed under the order

Social Security number

Social Security number

amounts col ected

amounts distributed

any arrearages, interest, or late penalty
charges

any liens imposed with respect to the order
Source: OCSE, Policy Responses Regarding the State Case Registry and the Federal Case Registry, AT-98-08,
March 5, 1998, available at https://www.acf.hhs.gov/css/resource/state-case-registry-federal-case-registry-of-child-
support-orders.
Each state also has an automated State Directory of New Hires that includes information from
employers, including federal, state, and local governments and labor organizations. For each
newly hired employee, this directory includes the name, address, and Social Security number of

8 Federal law requires every IV-D child support order to include a provision for health care coverage. It requires that
medical support for a child be provided by either or both parents and that it must be enforced. It authorizes the state
CSE agency to enforce medical support against a custodial or noncustodial parent whenever health care coverage is
available to that parent at reasonable cost. Moreover, it stipulates that medical support may include health care
coverage (including payment of costs of premiums, co -payments, and deductibles) and payment of medical expenses
for a child. (For additional information on medical child support, see CRS Report R43020, Medical Child Support:
Background and Current Policy
.)
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the employee, and the employer’s name, address, and tax identification number. This information
general y is supplied to the directory within 20 days after the employee is hired.
The SPLS also may use other information sources, such as telephone directories, motor vehicle
registries, tax files, and employment and unemployment records.
In addition to the resources discussed above, a state can request the assistance of the Federal
Parent Locator Service (FPLS).9 The FPLS is an assembly of systems, including the state systems
discussed above, operated by the Office of Child Support Enforcement (OCSE). It can be used for
any of the following purposes:
 parent location;
 establishing parentage;
 establishing, setting the amount of, modifying, or enforcing child support
obligations; or
 enforcing child custody or visitation orders.10
The FPLS assists federal and state agencies in identifying overpayments and fraud, and assessing
benefits. Its component systems can access data from the Social Security Administration, the
Internal Revenue Service, the Department of Defense, theDepartment of Veterans Affairs, the
National Security Agency, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and State Employment Security
Agencies. The FPLS also can search its federal case registry of child support orders and the
national directory of new hires (NDNH), which is a federal directory consisting of information
from federal agencies and al of the state directories.11
Automation is critical to the operation and success of the CSE program so that records in the
various parent location systems can be cross-checked to aid in the location of noncustodial
parents.12 Federal law requires that a designated state agency (directly or by contract) conduct

9 Developed in cooperation with the states, employers, federal agencies, and the judiciary, the FPLS includes the
following:
• T he National Directory of New Hires (NDNH): a central repository of employment, unemployment insurance, and
wage data from State Directories of New Hires, State Workforce Agencies, and federal agencies.
• T he Federal Case Registry (FCR): a national database that contains information on individuals in child support case s
and child support orders.
• T he Federal Offset Program (FOP): a program that collects past -due child support payments from the tax refunds of
parents who have been ordered to pay child support.
• T he Federal Administrative Offset Program (FAOP): a program that intercepts certain federal payments in order to
collect past -due child support.
• T he Passport Denial Program (PDP): a program that works with the Secretary of State in denying passports of any
person that has been certified as owing a child support debt greater than $2,500.
• T he Multistate Financial Institution Data Match (MSFIDM): a program that allows child support agencies a means of
locating financial assets of individuals owing child support.
For additional information on the FPLS, see http://www.acf.hhs.gov/programs/css/resource/federal-parent -locator-
service-information-for-families.
10 T he 1996 welfare reform law (P.L. 104-193) permits both custodial and certain noncustodial parents to obtain
information from the FPLS. T he Balanced Budget Act of 1997 (P.L. 105-33), however, prohibit s FPLS information
from being disclosed to noncustodial parents in cases where there is evidence of domestic violence or child abuse, and
the local court determines that disclosure may result in harm to the custodial parent or child.
11 Within three business days after receipt of new hire information from the employer, the state directory of new hires is
required to furnish the information to the national directory of new hires. (For additional information, see CRS Report
RS22889, The National Directory of New Hires: In Brief.)
12 T he Child Support Performance and Incentive Act of 1998 (P.L. 105-200) imposes financial penalties on states that
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automated comparisons of the Social Security numbers reported by employers to the state
directory of new hires and those associated with CSE cases that appear in the State Child Support
Case Registry. It also requires the HHS Secretary to conduct similar comparisons of the federal
directories.13
Paternity Establishment
Legal y identifying the father is a prerequisite for obtaining a child support order. For any
children born into a marriage, the husband is general y deemed to be the father; therefore, in
divorce cases, paternity general y does not need to be affirmatively established. In nonmarital
birth cases, however, paternity must be established prior to when a child support order is
obtained.
Federal law requires states to have procedures that permit the establishment of paternity for al
children under the age of 18.14 TANF applicants and recipients are legal y required to cooperate in
establishing paternity or obtaining support payments, and may be penalized for noncooperation. If
it is determined that an individual is not cooperating and that individual does not qualify for any
good cause or other exception, the state must reduce the family’s TANF benefit by at least 25%,
and may eliminate it entirely. Additional federal requirements associated with paternity
establishment include the following:
 state CSE programs must establish paternity for at least 90% of the CSE cases
needing such a determination;
 each state must implement a simple civil process for establishing paternity;
 an affidavit must be available that can be completed by men voluntarily
acknowledging paternity and that the affidavit be entitled to full faith and credit
in any state;15
 a signed acknowledgment of paternity must be considered a legal finding of
paternity unless it is rescinded within 60 days, and thereafter may be chal enged
in court only on the basis of fraud, duress, or material mistake of fact; and
 no judicial or administrative action wil be needed to ratify an acknowledgment
that is not chal enged.16

failed to meet the law’s automated data systems requirements. T he HHS Secretary is required to reduce the amount the
state would otherwise have received in federal CSE funding by the penalty amount for the fiscal year in question.
Section 455(a)(4)(B) of the Social Security Act (42 U.S.C. §655(a)(4)(B)) stipulates that the penalty amount percentage
is 4% in the case of the first year of noncompliance; 8% in the second year; 16% in the third year; 25% in the fourth
year; and 30% in the fifth or any subsequent year.
13 When a match occurs, the state directory of new hires is required to report to the state CSE agency the name, address,
and Social Security number of the employee, and the employer’s name, address, and identification number. Within two
business days, the CSE agency then instructs appropriate employers to withhold child support obligations from the
employee’s paycheck, unless the employee’s income is not subject to income withholding.
14 Section 466(a)(5) of the Social Security Act (42 U.S.C. §666(a)(5)). T he DRA (P.L. 109-171) reduced the 90%
federal matching rate for laboratory costs associated with paternity establishment to 66% as of October 1, 2006.
15 Section 466(a)(5)(D) of the Social Security Act (42 U.S.C. §666(a)(5)(D)) stipulates that an unmarried woman
cannot put a man’s name on a child’s birth record/certificate unless the man has voluntarily acknowledged that he is the
father of that child, or a court or administrative agency has ruled that the man is the father of the child in question.
16 Sections 452(g) and 466 of the Social Security Act (42 U.S.C. §652(g) and §666).
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For contested paternity cases, federal law further requires that al parties submit to genetic
testing.17
Establishment of Child Support Orders
A child support order is a legal document that obligates a noncustodial parent to provide financial
support for his or her children, and stipulates the amount of the obligation and how it is to be
paid. It is usual y established at the time of divorce or when an unmarried couple dissolves their
relationship. It also may be established when cooperation is required as a condition of receiving
public assistance.18
The child support order is established administratively by a state/county CSE agency or through
the state courts. Federal law requires states to use their state-established guidelines in establishing
child support orders.19 These guidelines are a set of rules and tables that are used to determine the
amount of the child support order. Child support guidelines are designed to protect the best
interests of the child or children in question by trying to ensure that they continue to benefit from
the financial resources of both parents in situations in which the parents go their separate ways.
They are also intended to make the calculation of child support fair, objective, consistent, and
predictable (which in many instances can have the added benefit of reducing conflict and tension
between the parents).
States decide child support amounts based on the noncustodial parent’s income or based on both
parents’ incomes. Other factors that may be considered include the age of child, whether a
stepparent is in the home, whether the child is disabled, and the number of siblings. States
currently use one of three basic types of guidelines to determine child support award amounts
(i.e., the child support order):
1. “Income shares,” which prorates the combined incomes of both parents to
determine the child support obligation of the noncustodial parent (41 states,
Guam, and the Virgin Islands);
2. “Percentage of income,” in which only the noncustodial parent’s income
(factoring in the number of children to which child support is to be paid) is used
to determine the support obligation (6 states); and
3. “Melson-Delaware,” which provides a minimum self-support reserve for parents
before the cost of rearing the children is prorated between the parents to
determine the award amount (3 states).20

17 Federal law requires states to have procedures that create a rebuttable or, at the option of the state, conclusive
presumption of paternity upon genetic testing results indicating a threshold probability that the alleged father is the
actual father of the child (Section 466(a)(5)(G) of the Social Security Act) (42 U.S.C. §666(a)(5)(G)).
18 Families required to cooperate with the CSE agency under federal law include those receiving T ANF cash assistance
or Medicaid coverage, and those in states that have adopted cooperation requirements for their SNAP programs.
Roughly half of states have additionally opted under their own laws to require cooperation of recipients of child care
subsidies.
19 See the Family Support Act of 1988 (P.L. 100-485).
20 T he District of Columbia uses a hybrid model that starts as a percentage of income model and is then reduced by a
formula based on the custodial parent ’s income. Information was not available for Puerto Rico. See National
Conference of State Legislatures, Child Support Guideline Models by State, July 10, 2020, available at
http://www.ncsl.org/research/human-services/guideline-models-by-state.aspx.
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Review and Modification of Support Orders
The circumstances of both the noncustodial parent and custodial family can change with time. As
these changes occur, child support obligations can become inadequate or inequitable. Effective
review and modification of child support orders are important steps in ensuring that noncustodial
parents continue to comply with realistic orders based on an actual ability to pay them.21
Federal law requires that states review and, if appropriate, adjust child support orders for TANF
family cases at least once every three years.22 For non-TANF family cases, such a review is not
automatic but either one of the parents can request it every three years. If a request for review and
modification is made prior to when that three-year cycle has been completed, the requesting party
must demonstrate that there was a substantial change in circumstances. Child support adjustments
and modifications must be in accordance with a state’s child support guidelines.
CSE programs usual y rely on one of the parents to request a modification of the child support
order. It is important for parents facing job loss, incarceration, or other substantial changes in
circumstances to seek a modification to their order quickly so that they do not fal behind in their
payments and thereby have to contend with past-due child support payments. Pursuant to federal
law, the court cannot retroactively reduce the arrearages that a noncustodial parent owes.23
Enforcement
The CSE program has a vast array of enforcement methods at its disposal to help ensure that child
support payments are made on time and in the full amount that is owed. Most payments are
collected from noncustodial parents through income withholding.24 In FY2019, 72% of
collections were obtained through income withholding.25 Other methods of enforcement include
 intercepting federal and state income tax refunds;
 intercepting unemployment compensation;
 filing liens against property;
 subjecting insurance settlements to withholding;
 intercepting lottery winnings, judgments, or settlements;
 seizing debtor parent assets held by public or private retirement funds and
financial institutions;
 withholding, suspending, or restricting driver’s licenses, professional or
occupational licenses, and recreational or sporting licenses; and

21 See Office of Child Support Enforcement, Providing Expedited Review and Modification Assistance, Child Support
Fact Sheet Series, No. 2, available at http://www.acf.hhs.gov/sites/default/files/ocse/
providing_expedited_review_and_modification.pdf. Also see CRS Report R44077, Modification of Child Support
Orders: Background, Policy, and Concerns
.
22 Section 466(a)(10) of the Social Security Act (42 U.S.C. §666(a)(10)).
23 Section 466(a)(9) of the Social Security Act (42 U.S.C. §666(a)(9)).
24 T here are three exceptions to the immediate income withholding rule: (1) if one of the parties demonstrates, and the
court (or administrative process) finds that there is good cause not to require immediate withholding, (2) if both parties
agree in writing to an alternative arrangement, or (3) at the HHS Secretary’s discretion, if a state can demonstrate that
the rule will not increase the effectiveness or efficiency of the state’s CSE program.
25 T his includes collections received from IV-D and non-IV-D child support cases processed through the State
Disbursement Unit.
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 denying, revoking, or restricting passports.
Past-due child support may accumulate if the noncustodial parent is unable or unwil ing to pay
the child support that is owed. In addition to collecting child support arrearages through the
enforcement methods above, al jurisdictions have civil or criminal contempt-of-court procedures
and criminal nonsupport laws. Federal criminal penalties also may be imposed in certain cases.
Federal law requires states to enact and implement the Uniform Interstate Family Support Act
(UIFSA), and expand full faith and credit procedures for child support orders issued by other
states.
Federal law also provides for international enforcement of child support.26 The Preventing Sex
Trafficking and Strengthening Families Act (P.L. 113-183) contained provisions designed to
improve child support collections in cases where the custodial parent lives in one country and the
noncustodial parent lives in another country.27 Specifical y, this act included implementing
legislation for The Hague Convention on the International Recovery of Child Support and Other
Forms of Family Maintenance (the Convention).28 (Forty other countries, including the European
Union member states, have also ratified the Convention.) The enactment of the law also ensured
that the United States continued to be compliant with any multilateral child support enforcement
treaties and, as part of this, required states to update their UIFSA law to incorporate verbatim any
amendments adopted as of September 30, 2008, by the National Conference of Commissioners on
Uniform State Laws. Additional y, the act facilitated greater access to the FPLS by foreign
countries and tribal governments as part of improving child support collections. The act also
amended federal law so that the federal income tax refund offset program would be available for
use by a state to handle CSE requests from foreign reciprocating countries and foreign treaty
countries.29
Financing
The CSE program is funded with both state
CSE Funding Elements
and federal dollars. There are five funding

State dol ars
streams associated with the CSE program.

Federal matching funds (i.e., 66% of general state
First, states spend their own money to
CSE expenditures)
operate a CSE program; the level of funding

Retained child support col ections from
al ocated by the state and/or localities
noncustodial parents on behalf of TANF families
determines the amount of resources available

Incentive payments to states
to CSE agencies.

Fees and costs recovered
Second, the federal government reimburses
each state 66% of al al owable expenditures on CSE activities, referred to as “federal financial

26 T he United States has reciprocal agreements with certain countries to process cases and enforce child support orders.
T hese countries include those that have joined the Hague Child Support Convention, and countries and Canadian
provinces/territories that have bilateral agreements with the U.S. government and are not parties to the Hague
Convention. OCSE maintains a list of these countries at http://www.acf.hhs.gov/programs/cse/international/.
27 For more information on P.L. 113-183, see CRS Report R43757, Child Welfare and Child Support: The Preventing
Sex Trafficking and Strengthening Fam ilies Act (P.L. 113 -183)
.
28 T he Convention was adopted at the Hague Conference on Private International Law on November 23, 2007. On
August 30, 2016, President Obama signed the instrument of ratification for the Convention.
29 For additional information on international enforcement of child support, see CRS Report R43779, Child Support
Enforcem ent and the Hague Convention on Recovery of International Child Support
.
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participation.”30 The federal government’s reimbursement is open-ended in that it pays its
percentage of expenditures by matching the amounts spent by state and local governments with
no upper limit or ceiling. For the purposes of the federal budget process, this funding is
considered to be mandatory spending, and is appropriated each fiscal year in the Departments of
Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act.
Third, states collect child support on behalf of families receiving TANF assistance to reimburse
themselves (and the federal government) for the cost of TANF cash payments to the family. (See
“Distribution of Support” section, below.)
Fourth, the federal government provides states with an incentive payment to encourage them to
operate effective programs.31 Federal law requires states to reinvest CSE incentive payments back
into the CSE program or related activities.32
Fifth, fees and costs recovered may help finance the CSE program. Families receiving TANF
benefits or Medicaid coverage, as wel as families required by their state SNAP program to
cooperate with the CSE agency, automatical y qualify for CSE services free of charge.33 The CSE
agency must charge al other families a fee when they apply for CSE services, not to exceed $25.
CS cases that have never received TANF benefits also are charged an annual user fee, not to
exceed $35, when child support enforcement efforts on their behalf are successful (i.e., at least
$550 annual y is collected on their behalf).34 The CSE agency may charge these fees to the
custodial or noncustodial parent, pay the fee out of state funds (or, in the case of the annual user
fee, deduct it from child support paid to the family).35 In addition, fees may be charged in other
circumstances, including for performing genetic tests (for purposes of paternity establishment) on
any individual who is not a recipient of TANF assistance or Medicaid. Final y, a state may at its
option recover administrative costs in excess of the fees, either from the custodial parent or the
noncustodial parent. Fees and administrative costs recovered must be subtracted from the state’s
total administrative costs before calculating the federal reimbursement amount (i.e., the 66%
matching rate).

30 In contrast to the federal matching rate of 66% for CSE programs run by the states or territories, pursuant to the 1996
welfare reform law (P.L. 104-193), the CSE program provides tribes and tribal organizations direct federal funding
equal to 100% of approved and allowable CSE expenditures dur ing the start -up period, provides 90% federal funding
for approved CSE programs during the first three years of full program operation, and provides 80% federal funding
thereafter. As of October 23, 2020, 60 Indian tribes or tribal organizations operated comprehensive tribal CSE
programs. For a listing of the tribal programs, see https://www.acf.hhs.gov/css/resource/tribal-child-support -agency-
contacts. For additional information, see CRS Report R41204, Child Support Enforcem ent: Tribal Program s.
31 T he CSE incentive payment—which is based in part on five performance measures related to establishment of
paternity and child support orders, collection of current and past -due child support payments, and cost -effectiveness—
was statutorily set by the Child Support Performance and Incentive Act of 1998 (P.L. 105-200). In the aggregate,
incentive payments to states may not exceed $458 million for FY2006, $471 million for FY2007, and $483 million for
FY2008 (to be increased for inflation in years thereafter). According to OCSE estimates, FY2019 incentive payments
are expected to amount to $496 million. For additional information on CSE incentive payments, see CRS Report
RL34203, Child Support Enforcem ent Program Incentive Paym ents: Backg round and Policy Issues.
32 T he DRA (P.L. 109-171), effective October 1, 2007, prohibit ed federal matching of state expenditure of federal CSE
incentive payments. However, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (P.L. 111-5) required HHS to
temporarily provide federal matching funds (in FY2009 and FY2010) on CSE incentive payments that states reinvest
back into the CSE program. Currently, CSE incentive payments that are received by states and reinvested in the CSE
program are no longer eligible for federal reimbursement.
33 T he DRA (P.L. 109-171), effective October 1, 2006.
34 In addition, the state cannot charge a fee to a custodial parent or noncustodial parent who is cooperating with the
CSE program as a condition of SNAP eligibility (45 C.F.R., Ch. III, 302.33(a)(3), (e)(3)(i-iii)).
35 For more information on the CSE annual user fee, CRS Report RS22753, Child Support Enforcement Annual User
Fee: In Brief
.
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Collection and Disbursement
In order to make the processing of child support payments more efficient and economical, all
states are required to have a centralized automated State Collection and Disbursement Unit
(SDU) to which child support payments are paid and from which they are distributed. SDUs assist
the income withholding process by providing employers with a single location in each state to
send the withheld child support payments. In addition to collecting and promptly distributing
money to custodial parents or other states, SDUs
 generate orders and notices of withholding to employers,
 create and maintain records associated with each payment, and
 furnish parents with a record of the current status of child support payments.
The SDU must use automated procedures, electronic processes, and computer-driven technology
to the maximum extent that is feasible, efficient, and economical.
The SDU must be operated directly by the state CSE agency, by two or more state CSE agencies
under a regional cooperative agreement, or by a contractor responsible directly to the state CSE
agency. Alternatively, instead of a single state system, a SDU may be established by linking local
disbursement units through an automated information network. In such cases, the Secretary of
HHS must first agree that the system wil not cost more, take more time to establish, or take more
time to operate than a single state system. Like single state systems, linked systems must give
employers only one location for submitting withheld income.
Federal law general y requires employers to remit to the SDU income withheld within seven
business days after the employee’s payday. Then, the SDU is required to send child support
payments to custodial parents within two business days of when they are received.
Distribution of Support
When child support is owed to a current or former TANF family, distribution rules determine
whether the family or the state retains any support that is collected. These distribution rules are
important when a payment is not enough to cover the current support, or if any arrearages are due
for those claims.
To reimburse the states and federal government for the cost of TANF cash benefits, TANF
families are required by federal law to assign their child support rights to the state. While the
family receives TANF, the states and federal government general y retain any current support and
any assigned arrearages collected up to the cumulative amount of TANF benefits paid to the
family.36 While states may opt to “pass-through” (i.e., pay) to the family some or al of the state
share of the child support (thereby forgoing its share of those collections), they general y stil
must pay the federal government its share of child support collected on behalf of TANF families.
However, in order to help states pay for the cost of their CSE pass-through policies, federal law
waives the federal government’s share of child support col ections that are passed through by
states, up to $100 per month for one child or up to $200 per month for two or more children. (The
state also must disregard the passed-through payments as income for the purposes of determining
TANF eligibility in order for the federal government to waive its share.) Based on May 2020 data,

36 T he DRA (P.L. 109-171), effective October 1, 2009, or at state option, October 1, 2008, provides that the assignment
only covers child support that accrues while the family receives T ANF.
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25 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico have a CSE pass-through and disregard
policy; 25 states, Guam, and the Virgin Islands do not.37
States must distribute to former TANF families the following child support collections before the
state and the federal government are reimbursed (the “family-first” policy):
 al current child support,
 any child support arrearages that accrue after the family leaves TANF (these
arrearages are cal ed never-assigned arrearages), and any arrearages that accrued
before the family began receiving TANF benefits. (Any child support arrearages
that accrue during the time the family is on TANF belong to the state and federal
government.38)
Noncustodial Parent Access to and Engagement with
their Children

Access and Visitation Grants and Parenting Time Agreements
A noncustodial parent’s right to visit with his or her children is commonly referred to as visitation
or child access (and more recently as voluntary parenting time agreements). State domestic
relations or family laws almost universal y treat child support and visitation as completely
separate issues. Historical y, the federal government has agreed that visitation and child support
should be legal y separate issues, and that only child support should be under the purview of the
CSE program. Both federal and state policymakers have maintained that denial of visitation rights
should not be considered a reason for stopping child support payments.39 However, in recognition
of the negative long-term consequences for children associated with the absence of their
noncustodial parent, as wel as evidence that contact between the child and noncustodial parent
can make it more likely that child support responsibilities wil be met,40 federal and state
policymakers have increasingly promoted efforts that address child support and access and
visitation in the same forum.
In order to promote visitation and better relations between custodial and noncustodial parents, the
Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996 (P.L. 104-193)
provided mandatory spending in the amount of $10 mil ion each fiscal year from the federal CSE
budget account for grants to states for access and visitation programs.41 Eligible activities include

37 National Conference of State Legislatures, Child Support Pass-Through and Disregard Policies for Public
Assistance Recipients
, May 29, 2020 (http://www.ncsl.org/research/human-services/state-policy-pass-through-
disregard-child-support.aspx).
38 T he DRA (P.L. 109-171) gave states the option of distributing to former T ANF families the full amount of child
support collected on their behalf (i.e., both current support and all child support arrearages—including arrearages
collected through the federal income tax refund offset program). T his provision t ook effect on October 1, 2009, or
October 1, 2008, at state option.
39 See OCSE, Child Support and Parenting Time: Improving Coordination to Benefit Children , July 2013, available at
https://www.acf.hhs.gov/sites/default/files/programs/css/13_child_support_and_parenting_time_final.pdf.
40 See OCSE, Noncustodial Parents: Summaries of Research, Grants and Practices, July 2009, available at
https://www.acf.hhs.gov/sites/default/files/ocse/dcl_09_26a.pdf.
41 Even before the 1996 welfare reform law (P.L. 104-193), the Family Support Act of 1988 (P.L. 100-485) authorized
a limited number of grants to states for demonstration projects to develop, impro ve, or expand activities designed to
increase compliance with child access provisions of court orders.
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but are not limited to mediation, counseling, education, development of parenting plans, visitation
enforcement, and development of guidelines for visitation and alternative custody arrangements.
In 2019, OCSE reported the results of their multiyear pilot program, Parenting Time
Opportunities for Children (PTOC). The purpose of PTOC was to evaluate the extent to which
CSE agencies could implement integrated processes for the establishment of child support orders
and parenting time agreements. The study also examined the feasibility of sufficient family
violence safeguards, and whether the establishment of parenting time would result in greater
parental involvement or child support payments. According to OCSE, “evaluators of the project
sites confirmed that parents appreciate the opportunity to address parenting time and feel that it
increases the fairness of child support. Furthermore, PTOC appears to help some parents with
improved relationships, more time with their children, and some smal increases in child support
compliance.”42
CSE administrative costs related to parenting time arrangements are not considered to be eligible
expenditures for federal reimbursement. However, there has been recent congressional interest in
these arrangements and the feasibility of implementing them on a more widespread basis using
existing funding sources. The Preventing Sex Trafficking and Strengthening Families Act (P.L.
113-183) included a Sense of the Congress statement specifying that
 establishing parenting time arrangements (also known as visitation) when
obtaining child support orders is an important goal that should be accompanied
by strong family violence safeguards; and
 states should use existing funding sources to support the establishment of
parenting time arrangements, including child support incentives, Access and
Visitation Grants, and Healthy Marriage Promotion and Responsible Fatherhood
Grants.
Responsible Fatherhood Programs
The federal government has also sought to engage noncustodial parents in the lives of their
children through what are known as “responsible fatherhood programs.”43 Based on the premise
that committed, involved, and responsible fathers are important in the lives of their children, these
programs seek to promote the financial and personal responsibility of noncustodial parents for
their children, and increase the participation of fathers in their children’s lives. Some responsible
fatherhood programs help noncustodial parents strengthen their parenting skil s. Other programs
try to discourage young men from becoming fathers until they are married and ready for the
responsibility.
The Deficit Reduction Act of 2005 (P.L. 109-171) included a provision that provided mandatory
funding for a Healthy Marriage Promotion and Responsible Fatherhood grants program (in Title
IV-A of the Social Security Act). For FY2006-FY2010, that program was provided up to $50
mil ion per year for competitive responsible fatherhood grants. For FY2011, funding for those
fatherhood grants was increased to $75 mil ion.44 Between FY2011 and FY2018, $75 mil ion in

42 OCSE, Parenting Time Opportunities for Children Research Brief, August 2019, p. 1, https://www.acf.hhs.gov/sites/
default/files/programs/css/ptoc_research_brief.pdf.
43 Although programs that seek to help fathers initiate or maintain contact with their children and become emotionally
involved in their children’s lives are usually referred to as “fatherhood” programs, the programs are generally gender
neutral. T heir underlying goal is participation of the noncustodial parent in the lives of h is or her children.
44 See the Claims Resolution Act of 2010 (P.L. 111-291).
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mandatory funding for this program each year was provided through provisions in appropriations
acts. Since FY2019, funding for this program was provided through a series of temporary
extensions, the most recent of which was through December 18, 2020 (Section 149 of P.L. 116-
159, as amended by P.L. 116-215, Section 101).
Most responsible fatherhood programs include parenting education; training in responsible
decisionmaking, conflict resolution, and coping with stress; mediation services for both parents;
problem-solving skil s; peer support; and job-training opportunities.45 Grantees include states,
territories, Indian tribes and tribal organizations, and public and nonprofit community groups
(including religious organizations).

Author Information

Jessica Tollestrup

Specialist in Social Policy


Acknowledgments
Carmen Solomon-Fears, retired CRS Specialist in Social Policy, authored earlier versions of this report.

Disclaimer
This document was prepared by the Congressional Research Service (CRS). CRS serves as nonpartisan
shared staff to congressional committees and Members of Congress. It operates solely at the behest of and
under the direction of Congress. Information in a CRS Report should n ot be relied upon for purposes other
than public understanding of information that has been provided by CRS to Members of Congress in
connection with CRS’s institutional role. CRS Reports, as a work of the United States Government, are not
subject to copyright protection in the United States. Any CRS Report may be reproduced and distributed in
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copy or otherwise use copyrighted material.


45 For more information on responsible fatherhood programs, see CRS Report RL31025, Fatherhood Initiatives:
Connecting Fathers to Their Children
.
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RS22380 · VERSION 38 · UPDATED
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