Applying Behavioral Science to Child Support

Apr 2016

From MDRC: The federal government created the child support program in the 1970s to secure financial and medical support for children whose parents live separately. Today, the program collects $32 billion per year in child support payments and serves more than 16 million children and families. Still, about 35 percent of child support obligations go unpaid each month. Parents who do not pay often lack the ability to do so, due to unemployment, disability, incarceration, or other (sometimes multiple) barriers. These parents leave a significant amount of child support unpaid, and collecting that support would help scores of families and children. Most child support debt is held by people with very little or no reported income. Knowing this, many child support agencies offer services to help parents find a job or lower their payments, but not all parents are aware of these services or enroll or apply for them. When their presence is required, some parents don’t show up at court or the child support office or bring the right paperwork when they do. What stops child support agencies from reaching the parents who need them most? And when they do reach them, why aren’t more parents following through to get help?



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