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This Article proceeds in three parts to evaluate the merits of integrating custody and visitation determinations in government-initiated child support proceedings. Part I situates the federal parenting time proposals within the doctrines that shape the scope and allocation of parental rights and responsibilities. This part explores parents’ ability to establish custody, visitation, and child support arrangements, both outside of the court system and within the context of domestic relations proceedings. The section goes on to explore the federal and state child support enforcement structure and recent attempts to change the goal of government involvement from recapturing costs to creating opportunities for parents to support and develop relationships with their children.

Part II explores the potential benefits of integrating child custody and visitation issues in child support proceedings. The section then analyzes the risks posed by proposals to mandate or incentivize integration as part of the state child support enforcement process. Part II posits that although it is important to offer integrated options to all parents, regardless of income, marital status, or port of entry for court filing, proposals to achieve integration through the state child support enforcement process undermine the fundamental rights of parents and inappropriately enmesh the government in the lives of low income families.

Finally, Part III proposes alternative mechanisms for encouraging parental access to children while protecting fundamental constitutional rights and ensuring quality custody and visitation determinations. It suggests that state courts and legislatures should develop integrated options for parents involved in state-initiated and non-state child support matters that: are voluntary; treat both parents as parties; explicitly address custody and visitation rights; incorporate procedural safeguards; offer clear legal information and assistance to ensure informed decision making; and utilize alternative dispute resolution (“ADR”) mechanisms which offer families the opportunity to determine family arrangements in more non-adversarial settings. Although giving parents the option to address custody and visitation in child support cases is a worthy policy and court reform goal, it is not a strategy that necessarily will lead to greater child support compliance. Given the lack of rigorous empirical evidence demonstrating a causal link between visitation and child support compliance, the section ends by recommending that the federal Office of Child Support Enforcement and Congress prioritize and fund policies that directly incentivize financial support of children, including subsidized employment assistance, recognition of in-kind support, and child support assurance programs.

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