Implement a Voluntary Paternity Acknowledgment Program

To improve child support collections in Texas, the state should implement a Voluntary Paternity Acknowledgment Program.


Background
Many states have increased child support collections by developing policies and programs that concentrate on establishing paternity. States cannot require parents to pay child support without a court order, and that order cannot be issued unless legal pate rnity has been established. Currently, only 25 percent of Texas more than 300,000 AFDC-related child-support cases have support orders. Of the remaining cases, 65 percent or 150,000 need paternity established.

The rapid increase in out-of-wedlock births in the United States has resulted in large numbers of children with no legal father. One of the reasons that states are falling behind in processing child support cases is the tremendous backlog of cases that i nvolve establishing paternity. Determining paternity can require genetic testing and court hearings and can take years to complete, especially if the mother and alleged father have been apart for a number of years.

Some states are pursuing voluntary paternity acknowledgments (VPAs) to expedite the paternity establishment process. In a VPA, the father voluntarily signs an affidavit acknowledging that he is the father. He submits his social security number as part of t he acknowledgment. The social security number may be vital later in locating the father if the mother decides to seek a support order. Many states also require the inclusion of both parents social security numbers on the birth certificate. 1

VPAs can occur any time before or after the birth, but the sooner paternity is established, the better. Most fathers visit their newborns in the hospital and claim paternity informally at that time. 2 For this reason, Washington, Virginia, Delaware and other states are focusing on prenatal clinics and hospitals as the best sites for VPAs. 3 Texas has a paternity acknowledgment project operating at Parkland Hospital in Dallas, but acknowledgments obtained at the hospital still do not replace the need for a court appearance. 4

Washington has a model VPA program. In that program, all hospitals and midwives are required to provide unwed maternity patients and their partners with the opportunity to execute paternity acknowledgments, and to file copies of the signed affidavits with both the state s bureau of vital statistics and the Child Support Enforcement (CSE) office. The CSE program reimburses the birth attendants $20 for each signed affidavit.

The CSE program matches their copy of each affidavit with the CSE caseload as it is received. One out of every four affidavits matches a CSE case as soon as it is entered. This is possible because all unmarried women in the state receiving publicly funded prenatal care are referred to the CSE program in the third trimester of pregnancy. As a result, they already have an established child-support case at the time the baby is born. If the affidavit matches an open CSE case, the automated system generates the support obligation based on the state s guideli nes and notifies the father of his obligation. He then may contest the order in the usual manner if he chooses. The program reports an average time frame of 98 days from the date of birth to establish a child-support order for these cases. 5

Washington obtains VPAs in about 40 percent of all births to unwed mothers in the state. In Texas, there are about 55,000 out-of-wedlock births each year. If the state obtained VPAs for 40 percent of these births, that would translate to 22,000 VPAs. The C SE Legislative Appropriation Request projects that the CSE program will establish 30,800 paternities in 1994. By pursuing VPAs, the state could allow the CSE program to focus on establishing paternities in contested and otherwise difficult cases.

Texas has the statutory authority to establish a VPA program like Washington s but has not done so. In Texas, parents may voluntarily establish paternity for a child by signing a duly sworn statement. The statement constitutes a prima facie case that the child whose name appea rs on the affidavit is the child of the person who signed the statement and that the signer is obligated to support that child. The main obstacle to pursuing VPAs in Texas is the lack of a procedure for providing parents the opportunity to sign paternity a ffidavits.


Recommendations
A. Texas should implement a Voluntary Paternity Acknowledgements (VPA) Program modeled after Washington s program. The state should use the Washington State Paternity Affidavit Statutes as model legislation.

Washington s st atutes provide a coherent, coordinated model for establishing paternity and ordering support in cases where the parents have voluntarily established paternity. Only minor technical changes would be needed to adapt to Texas program administration.

In addition to the paternity affidavit statutes, the CSE program should identify areas of the state with high rates of out-of-wedlock births and expand VPA efforts in these areas. In particular, the program should promote VPAs in places frequented by exp ectant mothers and fathers, such as churches, schools, recreation areas and businesses.

B. Texas should also follow Washington s example by requiring facilities providing publicly funded prenatal care to refer their Medicaid patients to the Child Support Enforcement (CSE) program during the third trimester of pregnancy.


Implications
The major advantage of VPAs is that they expedite the establishment of support orders. This would allow the state to stay within federally mandated time frames for case processing, thereby reducing the state s risk of federal audit penalties.

It also would increase collections by increasing the number of months of collections per case, by decreasing the buildup of large delinquent balances in AFDC cases and by keeping families off AFDC by providing timely support. Finally, VPAs wo uld increase Medicaid third-party reimbursements by increasing the number of children covered under their non-custodial parents group health insurance.

VPAs also benefit the state by reducing staff and court costs associated with establishing paternity, thereby saving tax dollars.

VPAs have advantages for both parents. They eliminate the need for lengthy paternity establishment processes later, including blood tests. VPAs also establish the father as a figure in his child s life.

However, the child reaps the greatest benefits, including the potential emotional bond with the father, relationships with the father s extended family, access to important information about heredity and access to future fina ncial benefits from the father. 6

Some minor administrative costs would be associated with VPA. However, savings from establishing paternities early and avoiding judicial processes would offset these costs.

Paternity affidavits can be contested at any time and genetic testing ordered if a man believes he is not the natural father.

Fiscal Impact
In Texas, paternity establishment in an AFDC case can take an average of about six months. Washington estimates that 50 percent of their VPAs eventually match a CSE- and AFDC-related case. If the same held true in Texas, securing VPAs on 40 percent of out-of-wedlock births in 1994 could increase collections in those cases by a period equivalent to 5,500 years.

Each year of time saved establishing paternity in a child-support case represents an additional year of collections in the case. VPAs would increase the state s share of retained collections by $460,000 in 1994, drawing an additional $1 million in federal incentives and matching funds to the CSE program. VPA s would also save state and federal AFDC and Medicaid funds by helping families off public assistance through regular child-support payments.

Administrative costs are estimated at $360,000 and 4 FTEs for the paternity acknowledgment program in 1994. The gain to the Child Support Retained Collections Account (CSRC) in FY 1994 would be $1.2 million and $20.2 million for the five-year period.


Fiscal Gain to the Child Administrative Net Gain to the Child Change
Year Support Collections Account Costs Support Collections Account in FTEs

1994 $1,544,000 $360,000 $1,184,000 +4
1995 3,087,000 470,000 2,617,000 +4
1996 4,630,000 580,000 4,050,000 +4
1997 6,174,000 690,000 5,484,000 +4
1998 7,718,000 800,000 6,918,000 +4




Endnotes
1 Bee Moorhead, State Survey of Innovative Child Support Enforcement Practices, (The University of Texas at Austin, September 1992). (Draft).
2 U.S. Commission on Interstate Child Support, Report to Congress, Supporting Our Children: Blueprint for Reform, 1992.
3 Moorhead, State Survey of Innovative Child Support Enforcement Practices.
4 Interviews with staff of the Child Support Enforcement Division, Office of Attorney General, Austin, Texas, October 1992.
5 Telephone interview with John Hoover, Washington State CSE Office, November 9, 1992.
6 Office of the Attorney General, Child Support Enforcement Division Resource Packet, October 1991.