A new federal rule intends to increase the effectiveness of the child support program for all families and provide for more flexibility in state child support programs.
The rule, 2016 Flexibility, Efficiency, and Modernization in Child Support Enforcement Programs, was published in the Federal Register on Dec. 20, 2016.
In an effort to accommodate the ever-changing world of technology, the rule helps remove barriers to outdated systems to improve efficiency and simplify the process of collecting and distributing child support.
While the new rule provisions are mostly optional and will not require legislation in most states, they do provide an opportunity for state legislators to clarify and shore up various child support enforcement laws.
The major provisions of the rule focus on:
Setting accurate support orders based on the specific case facts: This includes increased public involvement in state child support guideline reviews, further investigation into the financial resources of noncustodial parents to increase the accuracy of the order, and additional language to encourage states to consider many factors affecting a noncustodial parent's ability to pay.
Implementing due process safeguards in Turner v. Rogers: This addresses the use of civil contempt in child support cases and seeks to reflect the ruling of the U.S. Supreme Court in the 2011 case, Turner v. Rogers, which provided guidance on the factors to be considered when determining which cases should be referred to the court for civil contempt, including a determination of the noncustodial parent's ability to pay.
Ensuring the right of all parents to seek a review of their order when their circumstances change: While these provisions apply to all parties involved, they specifically address incarcerated noncustodial parents and their ability to have the child support order reviewed and potentially modified while they are incarcerated. The rule prohibits states from treating incarceration as voluntary unemployment for purposes of modifying a child support order. Currently 36 states and D.C. treat incarceration as involuntary unemployment. See NCSL's Child Support and Incarceration for more on how the new rule will impact incarcerated noncustodial parents.
Increasing state flexibility and evidence-based innovation: This includes several case closure provisions as well as removal of barriers to electronic communication and document management.
For more about the final rule, visit NCSL's Office of Child Support Enforcement (OCSE) Final Rules Governing Child Support Enforcement Programs, which includes a comprehensive summary, and the Federal Office of Child Support Enforcement's Final Rule Resources webpage.
Meghan McCann is a senior policy specialist with NCSL's Children and Families Program. She covers child support, family law and child welfare policy.