Relief from Government-Owed Child Support Debt and Its Effects on Parents and Children

Heather Han, Daniel Kuehn, Hannah Hassani, Urban Institute; Kathryn Edin, Princeton University
August 2019

This study recaps the results of California’s pilot project granting noncustodial parents relief from their state-owed arrears. In California, a large portion  of child support payments are owed to the government. If a parent doesn’t make the full monthly payment, interest accrues on the unpaid amount. The state implemented a pilot project in San Francisco that paid off all state-owed debt for a select group of noncustodial parents. This meant 100% of the child support collected went to the family. The benefits of the project included more consistent support payments, improved credit scores, and reduction in barriers to employment. The study suggests several changes to the child support program: no interest on past-due support, forgiveness of state-owed debt, process to make parents feel heard and respected in court, and a recognition that parents want to support their children.