Single parents head many households in Pennsylvania. For the past four decades, the federal Child Support Enforcement Program has enabled custodial parents to obtain child support from noncustodial parents. Although the program has effectively boosted income for single parents and connected children with noncustodial parents, participation in the program has declined.

According to federal data, only 49 percent of parents eligible to enter the program set up a child support agreement in 2014. Ten years earlier, 60 percent of eligible people had a formal agreement in place.

The failure of families to collect child support creates stress and negative outcomes for custodial parents and children. Children of unmarried parents experience poverty at triple the rate of children living with married parents. Because support payments reduce financial problems, the income has been associated with better cognitive development in children.

Nationwide, about 40 percent of children are born to unmarried parents. Because so many people experience the need to establish a child support agreement, family law attorneys provide services specifically geared toward child custody, visitation plans and the collection of unpaid support. A custodial parent who needs to obtain income from the other parent could consult an attorney. The lawyer could explain how to estimate the amount of support needed and how each parent’s income would influence the calculations. If the noncustodial parent is behind on payments, the attorney could seek to collect funds by requesting that the court impose a wage garnishment or apply a lien on a property. In other situations, a lawyer could help the parents negotiate an agreement and set up payments.