Working with Low-Income Cases: Lessons for the Child Support Enforcement System from Parents' Fair Share. B. Circumstances of NCPs Who Appear for Reviews


Exhibit 8 presents information on a sample of NCPs who were tracked by sites from the point at which they were identified as potential PFS referrals. (The same sample was used in Exhibit 7.) The "percent eligible and appropriate for PFS" represents those tracked in each site who were identified as appropriate for PFS and went through random assignment for selection for referral to the program or to a control group. The NCPs identified as appropriate were linked to a public-assistance case; not currently living with the child for whom support is owed; behind or unable to pay support payments; able to work but without a job; and within any of the age, language, or geographic restrictions that the local program imposed.

As Exhibit 8 shows, the percentage of those appearing who were judged appropriate for PFS varied widely, from over 70 percent in Kent County to about 12 percent in Duval County. Overall, slightly more than one-third of the NCPs who appeared at a review were deemed appropriate for the program.

The remainder of Exhibit 8 shows the reasons why other NCPs were deemed inappropriate by local staff for the PFS program.

Exhibit 8
Disposition of NCPs Who Appeared at Review Hearing, Percent by Site
      Duval Countya Kent County Los Angeles County Mercer Countyb Montgomery County Early Cohortc Montgomery County Later Cohortd Shelby County Total
Eligible and appropriate for referral to PFS 12.4 72.2 41.5 13.6 40.6 43.9 17.3 33.7
Not appropriate for referral to PFS 81.0 27.8 58.5 86.4 59.4 56.1 82.7 65.4
Reasons not appropriateb                
  Employed 36.9 5.6 31.8 31.9 33.3 35.4 48.8 33.5
  Purge payment amount set 6.5 5.6 0.1 0.0 0.0 5.1 14.2 1.9
  Currently unable to work                
  Disability 6.5 0.0 5.6 5.2 5.5 1.7 1.2 5.2
  In jail/prison 4.6 0.0 0.0 2.7 0.0 4.2 0.0 1.2
  Living with CP 4.4 0.0 3.8 2.2 0.0 0.0 0.0 2.9
  Ineligible for PFS Demonstration under local rules                
  Living outside jurisdiction 7.6 0.0 0.7 19.0 0.0 0.8 0.0 3.5
  Too young or too old 1.0 0.0 0.1 7.4 0.0 0.0 0.0 1.0
  No required link to AFDC 0.0 0.0 8.4 18.8 0.0 0.0 0.0 6.6
  Does not speak English 0.0 0.0 2.0 3.5 0.0 0.0 0.0 1.5
  No legal right to work (LA) 0.0 0.0 1.8 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0 1.0
  In pilot phase 15.0 0.0 0.0 0.0 8.7 8.1 0.0 2.9
  Othere 4.2 16.7 4.2 41.7 11.0 25.1 2.5 9.0
  Missing Information 6.7 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.9 8.1 16.0 0.8
Sample size 526 18 2142 405 345 237 162 3835

SOURCE: MDRC calculations from child support tracking logs.

NOTES : Data for Hampden County are not available due to the way in which PFS intake works there. Most referrals were from paternity hearings, which made it difficult to track potential referrals prior to the hearing.

a In Duval County potential referral logs were collected from January to March 1996. More than one reason may have been recorded in Duval County for not randomly assigning an NCP.

b More than one reason may have been recorded in New Jersey for not randomly assigning an NCP.

c Early cohort data were collected from January to June 1995.

d Late cohort data were collected from January to May 1996.

e As of September 10, 1994, Mercer County is only randomly assigning cases in which the custodial parent is no longer on AFDC, but there is both a state debt and a current child support obligation.

Employment. About one-third of those appearing provided previously unreported information on employment. This ranged from a low of about 6 percent in Kent County (the jurisdiction in PFS that other evidence suggests has the most stringent existing level of CSE) to 49 percent in Shelby County. In Shelby County, a large percentage of the cases called for hearings were those in which the CPs filed a complaint with the CSE agency requesting enforcement action. In these CP-generated cases, the chance that previously unreported employment existed could well be quite high; in fact, it might be what stimulated the CPs to lodge the complaint. The remaining four sites fell within the range of 32 to 37 percent smokeout.

While these reports of employment do not automatically translate into child support payments for the reasons cited above, analysis of payments generated by these NCPs has convinced staff that there is a payoff in increased support from these cases. But these early indications suggest strongly a potential for increased child support payments through the case review process that a PFS-like program stimulates.

Purge payment made at review. About 2 percent of those NCPs appearing at a review made purge payments at the time of the hearing. But these payments occurred primarily in two of the sites (Duval and Shelby counties), where about 7 and 14 percent (respectively) of those appearing made purge payments. Such payments would typically occur only in a formal civil contempt hearing, when the judge or hearing officer had found an NCP in contempt of the court order and sentenced him to jail. Most contempt actions for failure to pay child support are civil contempt. In these procedures, the goal is to force compliance with the court’s order rather than to punish for failure to comply, as would be the case in a criminal contempt action. Thus, in civil contempt actions an NCP has the option of paying a specified amount and being released, and the judge or hearing officer is required to set the purge payment at a level the NCP is capable of paying. In the folklore of the law, the defendant must have "the keys to his cell."

In the remaining sites, purge payments were basically not imposed as part of the hearing process leading to referral to PFS. In several sites (Los Angeles, Montgomery, and Kent counties), a finding of contempt and imposition of purge payments was not within the powers of the staff conducting the initial review of most NCPs considered for PFS because of the form of the review. Consequently, the low overall level of purge payments is not a real indication of how prevalent they might be if a jurisdiction had chosen to hear the cases of potential referrals to PFS in a forum with the power to find NCPs in contempt.

Current inability to work. About 5 percent of those NCPs tracked were disabled to the extent they could not be expected to work and another 1 percent were incarcerated. For both categories, there was thus evidence that the support order should be adjusted downward. The PFS review process typically provided the information needed to make this possible, but such a modification was often not possible with the review.

Living with the custodial parent. At the time of the review, staff learned that about 3 percent of the NCPs appearing were currently living with the CP and the child for whom the order had been issued. This illustrates the dynamism in the family situations of NCPs and CPs, as would be the case in a sample not restricted to low-income households. In these cases, the NCPs should have their order adjusted to reflect these newly discovered living circumstances.

Ineligible for PFS under local program rules. About 15–20 percent of NCPs who appeared at reviews fell outside specific local PFS rules. Especially important were local rules on the required link to a public-assistance case; during part of the demonstration, some sites did not serve NCPs in PFS if there was not a current AFDC case for the CP. Other sites required NCPs to be older than a specified age cutoff, living within reasonable commuting distance of the program service providers, legally able to work in the United States (that is, was a citizen or had the proper immigration status), or able to converse in English to be included in the program.