Most Arrears Were Submitted to OCSE More Than Five Years Ago

September 2, 2021
A dollar symbol with "Past Due" text

AUTHOR: ELAINE SORENSEN

As of January 2021, total child support arrears certified by states and submitted to OCSE totaled $113.5 billion. About 88% of that amount, or $100.1 billion, was submitted to OCSE more than five years ago. Nearly 30% was initially submitted more than 20 years ago. Research shows that arrears are less likely to be collected the older they get.1

Child support arrears reflect unpaid child support. State child support programs certify arrears and submit them to OCSE for inclusion in the Federal Collection and Enforcement Programs. In turn, OCSE forwards this information to certain federal and private entities, when appropriate, for actions under federal law to collect these arrears.  

Figure 1 shows that $32.4 billion of total certified arrears are owed on child support cases that were initially submitted to OCSE more than 20 years ago, representing 29% of total certified arrears. Only $13.4 billion, or 12% of total certified arrears, are owed on cases that were submitted in the last five years. That means, 88% of total certified arrears are owed on cases that were submitted to OCSE more than five years ago. 

Figure 1. Certified Arrears by Year the Case Was Initially Submitted to OCSE

Source: OCSE, Management Information Central Repository System (MICRS).

Note: Columns may not sum to 100% due to rounding. The amount of Non-TANF and TANF certified arrears do not sum to the amount of total certified arrears within each age category because the age of total certified arrears is determined by the first submission date regardless of the TANF status of the case. 

Most certified arrears are owed to custodial families, but some are owed to the government. This is because when families apply for cash assistance from the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program, they are required to assign their child support to the government. Any child support that goes unpaid while the family receives TANF benefits is owed to the government and referred to as TANF arrears. In January 2021, a total of $21.1 billion of certified arrears were TANF arrears, representing 19% of total certified arrears owed at that time. This percentage has declined dramatically in the past 10 years, as discussed in a previous blog

As Figure 1 shows, $10.4 billion of TANF certified arrears, or 49%, are owed on cases initially submitted to OCSE over 20 years ago. Only $1.6 billion of TANF certified arrears, or 8%, are owed on cases submitted to OCSE in the last five years. Turning to non-TANF certified arrears, $19.1 billion of non-TANF arrears, or 21%, are owed on cases initially submitted over 20 years ago, and 14% were initially submitted in the last five years. 

The percent of TANF and non-TANF arrears initially submitted over 20 years ago varies considerably among state child support programs. For example, 69% of one state’s TANF arrears were initially submitted over 20 years ago, while only 8% of another state’s TANF arrears were initially submitted that long ago. State child support programs interested in learning more about the age of their certified arrears should contact DPSAsupport@acf.hhs.gov.


Elaine Sorensen, Liliana Sousa, and Simon Schaner. (2007). Assessing Child Support Arrears in Nine Large States and the Nation (PDF) Visit disclaimer page . Washington, DC: Urban Institute. (Retrieved from: https://www.urban.org/sites/default/files/publication/29736/1001242-Assessing-Child-Support-Arrears-in-Nine-Large-States-and-the-Nation.PDF)

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