A new report by the New York City Independent Budget Office shows a shift in priorities at the city’s Office of Child Support Enforcement. OCSE began in 1975, when Congress provided a blueprint for local child support enforcement programs. OCSE provides custodial parents with assistance in obtaining financial support and medical insurance coverage for their children by locating parents, establishing paternity, establishing support orders and collecting and distributing child support payments.

More than 90 percent of the funds collected go to families, providing a vital source of financial support to thousands of custodial parents and children, including many from low-income households. The program became more effective in the 1990s, with the overhaul of public assistance.

According to the New York Divorce Report, child support is calculated pursuant to the Child Support Standards Act. The “basic child support obligation” is calculated by multiplying combined parental income by the appropriate child support percentage. Income is defined as “gross income as was or should have been reported on the most recent federal income tax return” less deductions for, inter alia, Social Security and New York City and Yonkers income taxes. 

IBO reviewed the programmatic shifts in the city’s Office of Child Support Enforcement and examined changes in the office’s caseloads and collections in recent years.

The report also indicates that support enforcement has evolved. In the past, the emphasis was on punitive measures to pressure noncustodial parents who had fallen behind on their court ordered payments to make good on their child support debts. However, over the years, there has been a gradual shift to a more familycentered focus on helping to foster relationships between youth and their noncustodial parents, addressing the needs of those parents so they can financially support their children.

In addition, the report also states that the feds have taken on a larger role by providing grants and other incentives to encourage states to implement policies that establish more realistic child support orders, reduce child support debt, intervene early when parents begin to struggle to make payments, engage fathers in the lives of their children, improve family relationships and increase noncustodial parent employment.