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What Does Child Support Enforcement Say about Responsible Fatherhood?

Posted by Christopher A. Brown

We receive a lot of emails and phone calls from dads and moms angry about what they perceive as unfair child support orders. Many non-custodial dads in particular think the child support enforcement (CSE) system is rigged (e.g. favors moms) and doesn't appreciate how important their involvement is in the lives of their children.  

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The good news is CSE agencies at the state level are doing more to help non-custodial dads create an affordable enforcement order that helps them meet their support obligation. Indeed, many states have initiatives, for example, that reduce a dad's arrears in exchange for the dad participating in a responsible fatherhood program or other activities necessary in meeting his obligation (e.g. job training). Earlier this year, in fact, I was a guest speaker on a webinar conducted by the National Child Support Enforcement Association (a membership organization of CSE professionals) that highlighted several states with exceptional initiatives. 

It would be difficult for states to implement such initiatives without the support of CSE at the federal level. So I wondered what exactly the federal Office of Child Support Enforcement (OCSE) says about the importance of responsible fatherhood programs. 

More than you might think.

I had to look no farther than OCSE's National Child Support Strategic Plan for 2015-2019. The foundation of the plan rests on five principles that emphasize a family-centered approach to CSE. Each principle has a number of goals. Two of those principles highlight the important OCSE places on responsible fatherhood programs.

  • Principle #1--Families First: This principle states, "A family-centered child support program partners with parents to promote consistent support payments." One of the goals within this principle called "Address Barriers to Payment" stresses addressing "barriers to positive parent involvement through coordination with parenting time, co-parenting education, responsible fatherhood, and domestic violence programs."
  • Principle #4--Resourceful Leadership: This principle states, "An enterprising child support program leverages sufficient resources to meet its mission." One of the goals within this principle called "Expanding Program Capacity Through Strategic Partnerships" stresses building "A network of partnerships in areas such as employment, parenting time, co-parenting education, mediation services, financial literacy, housing, food assistance, child care, domestic violence prevention, child welfare, responsible fatherhood, financial management, health care, and substance abuse--to increase the employment and parenting opportunities of both parents." 

These principles and others reflect an evolving OCSE that recognizes:

  • The importance of dads to the well-being of children.
  • The importance of children having equal access to both parents.
  • That most dads with child support obligations are dead-broke, not deadbeat.
  • That dads need help in many ways, and from many sources, to meet their obligation and to be the best parent and co-parent possible.
  • That CSE has its own obligation: to connect dads with their children within a family-centered approach.

CSE at the federal and state level is anything but perfect. Nonetheless, since I started working at NFI more than 17 years ago, I've seen a significant change in the emphasis CSE places on the importance of dads and the role of responsible fatherhood programs in connecting dads to their children.

Do you operate under the assumption that neither the OCSE nor your state's CSE office cares about the importance of dads?

Have you investigated whether there are family-centered efforts underway in your state or community to help dads meet their child support obligation? 

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