Child Support Policies and Domestic Violence

By Pearson, Jessica; Griswold, Esther Ann | Public Welfare, Winter 1997 | Go to article overview

Child Support Policies and Domestic Violence


Pearson, Jessica, Griswold, Esther Ann, Public Welfare


To avoid severe reductions in benefits, recipients of cash assistance will be required to provide the names of fathers of their children for the purpose of establishing paternity and pursuing child support.

Editor's note: This article is an abbreviated version of a report that was prepared with the support of the Federal Office of Child Support Enforcement as part of the Model Office Project (Grant No. 90-FF-0027), a demonstration/evaluation awarded to the Colorado Department of Human Services in October 1994 to examine the effectiveness of various innovations in processing child support cases. The opinions expressed in this document are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policies or positions of the Federal Office of Child Support Enforcement, the Colorado Department of Human Services, or the Denver Department of Social Services. The authors appreciate the support and assistance of Gaile R. Maller, Branch Chief, OCSE; Pauline Burton, State Director of Child Support Enforcement; John Bernhart, Denver Director of Child Support Enforcement; and Kathy Rodriguez, MOP Manager.

The new federal welfare law (P.L. 104-193) will hold applicants and recipients of cash assistance to strict cooperation standards. To avoid severe reductions in benefits, women will be required to provide the name of the father of their children and other identifying information for the purpose of establishing paternity and pursuing child support. States must define several key issues: what constitutes cooperation; what constitutes good cause for exemption from pursuing child support; what constitutes noncooperation; the penalty for noncooperation; and which agency should make the good cause determination. States are urged to consider the impact of domestic violence on applicants and recipients and exercise flexibility in imposing the various time frames and performance requirements specified in welfare reform.

This article offers some clues on how states might pursue the goals of both collecting child support from all absent parents and protecting women and children from men who are violent. It is based on an investigation of domestic violence, child support, and the good cause application process conducted by the Center for Policy Research as part of the Colorado Model Office Project. The investigation relied on interviews with victims of domestic violence who applied for or received Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) or Medicaid at the Denver Department of Social Services (DDSS). We conducted 16 face-to-face interviews and 4 telephone interviews (Table 1). We also reviewed 69 good cause applications from women whose histories included domestic violence.

Child Support Policy in the United States

Nonpayment of child support is a key cause of child poverty in the United States. Recent research by the Urban Institute shows that over 80 percent of all noncustodial fathers either paid no child support or less than 15 percent of their personal income on child support.(1)

Justifiably, the collection of child support is a vital component of the new welfare law and the national plan for ensuring the financial well-being of children living in single-parent households. To this end, many new enforcement remedies will be adopted, including the establishment of state and national case registries that contain up-to-date information on the location and identity of all parties to any paternity or child support proceeding.

While most custodial parents and policymakers laud the commitment to more aggressive child support enforcement procedures, including effective automated formats that involve mass case processing techniques rather than individual case handling, domestic violence professionals fear that the new law poses some potential problems for victims. As states supplant the federal government in implementing welfare reform, many victims may well face more stringent definitions of cooperation and harsher penalties for noncooperation. …

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