Access and Visitation Grants
A noncustodial parent’s right to visit with his or her children is commonly referred to as visitation
or child access (and more recently as voluntary parenting time arrangements). State domestic
relations or family laws almost universally treat child support and visitation as completely
separate issues. Historically, the federal government has agreed that visitation and child support
should be legally separate issues, and that only child support should be under the purview of the
CSE program. Both federal and state policymakers have maintained that denial of visitation rights
should not be considered a reason for stopping child support payments.39 However, in recognition
of the negative long-term consequences for children associated with the absence of their
noncustodial parent, as well as evidence that contact between the child and noncustodial parent
can make it more likely that child support responsibilities will be met,
40 federal and state
policymakers have increasingly promoted efforts that address child support and access and
visitation in the same forum.
In order to promote visitation and better relations between custodial USA Child Support Information and noncustodial parents, the
Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996 (P.L. 104-193)
provided mandatory spending in the amount of $10 million each fiscal year from the federal CSE
budget account for grants to states for access and visitation programs.
41 Eligible activities include
37 National Conference of State Legislatures, Child Support Pass-Through and Disregard Policies for Public
Assistance Recipients, June 18, 2017 (http://www.ncsl.org/research/human-services/state-policy-pass-throughdisregard-child-support.aspx).
38 The DRA (P.L. 109-171) gave states the option of distributing to former TANF families the full amount of child
support collected on their behalf (i.e., both current support and all child support arrearages—including arrearages
collected through the federal income tax refund offset program). This provision took effect on October 1, 2009, or
October 1, 2008, at state option.
39 See OCSE, Child Support and Parenting Time: Improving Coordination to Benefit Children, July 2013, available at
40 See OCSE, Noncustodial Parents: Summaries of Research, Grants and Practices, July 2009, available at
41 Even before the 1996 welfare reform law (P.L. 104-193), the Family Support Act of 1988 (P.L. 100-485) authorized
a limited number of grants to states for demonstration projects to develop, improve, or expand activities designed to
increase compliance with child access provisions of court orders.
Child Support Enforcement: Program Basics
Congressional Research Service 12
but are not limited to mediation, counseling, education, development of parenting plans, visitation
enforcement, and development of guidelines for visitation and alternative custody arrangements.
The Preventing Sex Trafficking and Strengthening Families Act (P.L. 113-183) included a Sense
of the Congress statement specifying that
establishing parenting time arrangements (also known as visitation) when
obtaining child support orders is an important goal that should be accompanied
by strong family violence safeguards; and
states should use existing funding sources to support the establishment of
parenting time arrangements, including child support incentives, Access and
Visitation Grants, and Healthy Marriage Promotion and Responsible Fatherhood
Responsible Fatherhood Programs
The federal government has also sought to engage noncustodial parents in the lives of their
children through what are known as “responsible fatherhood programs.”
42 Based on the premise
that committed, involved, and responsible fathers are important in the lives of their children, these
programs seek to promote the financial and personal responsibility of noncustodial parents for
their children, and increase the participation of fathers in their children’s lives. Some responsible
fatherhood programs help noncustodial parents strengthen their parenting skills. Other programs
try to discourage young men from becoming fathers until they are married and ready for the
The Deficit Reduction Act of 2005 (P.L. 109-171) included a provision that provided mandatory
funding for a Healthy Marriage Promotion and Responsible Fatherhood grants program (in Title
IV-A of the Social Security Act). For FY2006-FY2010, that program was provided up to $50
million per year for competitive responsible fatherhood grants. For FY2011, funding for those
fatherhood grants was increased to $75 million.43 Between FY2011 and FY2018, $75 million in
mandatory funding for this program each year was provided through provisions in appropriations
acts. . For FY2019, funding for this program was provided through a series of temporary
extensions, the most recent of which was through end of the fiscal year (P.L. 116-27).
Most responsible fatherhood programs include parenting education; training in responsible
decisionmaking, conflict resolution, and coping with stress; mediation services for both parents;
problem-solving skills; peer support; and job-training opportunities.44 Grantees include states,
territories, Indian tribes and tribal organizations, and public and nonprofit community groups
(including religious organizations).
42 Although programs that seek to help fathers initiate or maintain contact with their children and become emotionally