Parents’ Reflections on Their Experiences with the Child Support Program in the Procedural Justice-Informed Alternatives to Contempt Demonstration

By Louisa Treskon, Jacqueline Groskaufmanis

The Procedural Justice-Informed Alternatives to Contempt (PJAC) demonstration project integrates principles of procedural justice into enforcement practices in six child support agencies across the United States. Procedural justice is the perception of fairness in processes that resolve disputes and result in decisions. Research has shown that if people perceive a process to be fair, they will be more likely to comply with the outcome of that process, whether or not the outcome is favorable to them.

Child support agencies aim to secure payments from noncustodial parents to support the well-being of their children. The PJAC demonstration project targeted noncustodial parents who were at the point of being referred to the legal system for civil contempt of court because they had not met their child support obligations yet had been determined to have the ability to pay by child support agency staff members. The goal of PJAC services was to address noncustodial parents’ reasons for nonpayment, improve the consistency of their payments, and promote their positive engagement with the child support agency and the custodial parent.

This brief is the ninth in a series developed primarily for child support practitioners and administrators that shares lessons learned as the six child support agencies implemented the PJAC model. It focuses on parents’ perspectives on and experiences with the child support program. It draws from 121 structured, qualitative interviews conducted with noncustodial and custodial parents in the PJAC services and business-as-usual groups across all six study agencies.

The brief begins with background information on parents in the PJAC demonstration, including general characteristics of the overall study sample and of the subset of parents interviewed. Next, it focuses on parents’ reports of their interactions with child support, including an overview of how parents communicated with staff members and described their experiences with enforcement actions. Finally, the brief summarizes the extent to which parents felt the principles of procedural justice were present in their interactions with child support, as well as their impressions of the benefits of the child support program overall. Throughout, the brief compares the responses of parents who received PJAC services with the responses of those who received business-as-usual services, highlighting differences when they are present.

Treskon, Louisa and Jacqueline Groskaufmanis. 2022. “Parents’ Reflections on Their Experiences with the Child Support Program in the Procedural Justice-Informed Alternatives to Contempt Demonstration.” New York: MDRC.