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Child Support and Reentry

NCJ Number
Date Published
September 2021
65 pages

This report presents the findings of research by social scientists and policy analysts regarding how child support, criminal justice, and reentry into the community after incarceration are related.


The issues addressed are 1) how child support obligations influence reintegration; 2) how incarceration impacts child-support repayment and debt; 3) what policies exacerbate the debt-recidivism link; and 4) which policies show promise in addressing this link. Overall, research indicates that child support obligations and debt adversely impact stable employment. Stricter child-support enforcement policies are linked to a decline in employment and earnings. This is related to drivers’ license revocation and contempt of court enforcement. Child support debt also puts pressure on family networks, decreasing contact and engagement with children and in-kind support. Some state and federal policies have addressed the reentry challenges of parents with child-support debt. Some policies provide coordinated assistance with child support modification and assistance in bringing child support payments to manageable levels. Many states and locales have experimented with debt-relief programs for both low-income parents and formerly incarcerated parents. Most of these policies focus on government-owed debt. Evaluations of these policies have found that debt forgiveness is associated with lower debt burdens, more consistent support payments, and higher support payments. These policies also show promise in improving family relationships. Recommendations are outlined for further state, local, and federal reforms that can address the child support debt faced by parents reentering their communities after incarceration. Recommendations for additional research in this area are also offered. 143 references and appended figures

Date Published: September 1, 2021