For single-parent families, child support from non-custodial parents is a critical way to reduce poverty. The Child Support Enforcement program (CSE) serves 16 million children as well as 22 million parents and caregivers each year. The program collects child support for families, establishes the legal relationship between children and their unmarried fathers, and helps children obtain health care coverage. Families receiving Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) cash assistance or certain other benefits must participate in the child support program, while other families may apply for child support services. Any child is eligible for state child support services, regardless of income.
This brief discusses how the child support program came to be used as a welfare cost recovery mechanism, the technicalities of assignment and distribution provisions, and the benefits—to families and government—of passing through child support payments directly to the family.