August is National Child Support Awareness Month

Child Support Enforcement: Program Basics

Report 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 still 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 generally 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. Finally, fees and costs recovered, also help finance the CSE program.