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Three Keys to Modernizing Child Support Enforcement

Father and daughter working on household budget.

State, local and tribal child support agencies help millions of families meet daily needs by ensuring conservators comply with court-ordered financial obligations. In 2022, the Office of Child Support Services collected $30.5 billion in child support, with 72% coming from income withholding. Unfortunately, conservators who fall into arrears by missing or stopping payments increase the cost of programs and deprive families of much needed support. In addition, 95% of parents with six consecutive months of missing child support payments will continue to miss obligations, according to a TransUnion study, Predicting Child Support Delinquency Payments.

To strengthen financial stability for families, agencies must focus on cost-effective strategies to collect current payments and arrears while optimizing the workloads for case managers. Adapting and modernizing operations can help meet the needs of today’s families by realizing more opportunities to enforce orders and improving overall agency performance.

Keep up with the changing enforcement environment

Shifts in the market, economy, family composition and arrangements have forced change on child support operations. The proportion of custodial parents intended to receive support — but receiving none — is steadily increasing.

For more than three years, the average amount owed on overdue, unpaid child support accounts has grown steadily. And when an overdue account goes unpaid, it remains that way for a significant period. This means child support enforcement workers find it increasingly difficult to bring overdue accounts current.

Average child support outstanding balance per parent 3/1/2020 to 3/1/2023

Agencies are doing the best they can with current data and systems but need to be more productive. Those agencies that adapt and modernize operations may be poised to:

  • Prioritize efforts based on recoverability
  • Improve outcomes for children and families
  • Control arrears and retain more current enforcement
  • Improve efficiency and optimize case manager workloads

Focus on improving families’ financial health and stability

In the current child support climate, recovering what’s owed has become especially challenging. Using our TruVision™ Child Support Recovery Score — a score designed to calculate the likelihood an account can be recovered — we’ve found recovery prospects have significantly deteriorated since 2020. Scores range from 350–850 based on changes in spending patterns, credit usage, debt repayment and new credit activity. A higher score denotes a higher predicted likelihood of collecting within six months. The observed decline coincides with higher costs for everyday staples, rising interest rates and dwindling cash savings — all of which may be tightening conservators’ finances.

Median child support recovery score for overdue parents 3/1/2020 to 3/1/2023

Data and tools that help track and analyze financial activity can make it easier to predict, prevent or change the number of conservators putting themselves — and their families — at risk. Order enforcement processes should be enhanced to better understand who can pay, how payment behaviors have changed over time, and changes in other debt obligations. To help predict child support order non-payment, agencies should be vigilant about detecting changes that hint at financial distress.

Three Signs to Spot Struggling Parents Before a Missed Child Support Payment

One of the most important goals of any agency’s efforts is efficient use of resources. To maximize productivity, case managers should use prioritization solutions to quickly identify which non-custodial parents have the ability and willingness to pay. Among parents with a moderate-to-high Child Support Recovery Score (550+), our data shows the average amount of overdue child support has been growing recently, meaning agency personnel have more opportunity now to get support to families in need.

Average child support balance of 'high recoverability' accounts 3/1/2020 to 3/1/2023

Child support agencies that prioritize accounts with a high likelihood of recovery are more apt to yield partial or full repayment of outstanding child support debt.

A playbook for more effective child support enforcement

On any given day, a conservator’s financial situation can change, causing risk and

predictability to fluctuate. During times of economic stress and uncertainty, the pace, scope and

amount of change can accelerate dramatically. Before an account becomes delinquent, research shows child support enforcement agencies have a short window to identify non-payment risk.

Modern enforcement strategies require modern tools. Our recently published guide — Playbook for Child Support Enforcement — identifies three best practices that may help manage enforcement:

  • Understand conservators holistically
  • Adopt a proactive approach
  • Strengthen enforcement processes

With current best practices and solutions to augment approaches, processes and protocols, this guide can help agency personnel improve performance by optimizing order enforcement through enhanced operational efficiency.

Get the Playbook for Child Support Enforcement