Reducing Child Support Debt in the Procedural Justice-Informed Alternatives to Contempt (PJAC) Demonstration

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 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 was 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 targets noncustodial parents who are at the point of being referred to the legal system for civil contempt of court because they have not met their child support obligations, yet have been determined to have the ability to pay. The goal of PJAC services is to address noncustodial parents’ reasons for nonpayment, improve the consistency of their payments, and promote their positive engagement with the child support program and the custodial parent.

This brief is the seventh in a series developed primarily for child support practitioners and administrators that shares lessons learned as the six participating child support agencies implement the PJAC model. Drawing on staff and parent interviews, a staff survey, child support administrative records, and participation data from the PJAC management information system, it describes PJAC’s approach to forgiving noncustodial parents’ child support debt as an incentive for positive behavior—for example, making consistent payments, being more involved with children, and participating in employment services.

Phillips, Douglas. 2021. “Reducing Child Support Debt in the Procedural Justice-Informed Alternatives to Contempt (PJAC) Demonstration.” New York: MDRC.