Brett Burkhardt of Oregon State University, Carolyn Heinrich, now at the University of Texas at Austin, and Hilary Shager, of the Wisconsin Department of Children and Families, studied effectiveness of a multiyear pilot program called Families Forward that allows parents in Racine, Wis., with large child support debt to reduce their overall debt if they pay back at least some of what they owe.
Burkhardt said much of the debt is owed by low-income non-custodial parents who are unlikely ever to pay back the full amount.
"Custodial parents are not receiving much-needed income that they should be, and much of this debt is just uncollectable," Burkhardt said in a statement. "In addition, government agencies are strained because they have to put a great deal of resources into trying to collect what is owed, and then enforce it and penalize those who do not pay."
The program targeted non-custodial parents with more than $2,000 of debt. For every $1 of child support paid, the program forgave 50 cents of debt toward the family and another 50 cents toward the state debt.
More than 120 people completed the program with the non-custodial parents contributing, on average, more than $100 more per month than parents who did not participate.
The findings were published in the Journal of Policy Analysis and Management.