The Law and Economics of Child Support Payments

The Law and Economics of Child Support Payments

Edited by William S. Comanor

To understand the issues involved, leading lawyers and economists examine various facets of the child support system from a law and economics perspective. They consider the incentives faced by both custodial and non-custodial parents, and search for policy actions that are more incentive-compatible for all participants. The assumptions underlying current child support guidelines are discussed, as are the ways in which child support payments affect family structure, teenage delinquency and income disparities between parents.

Chapter 1: Child support payments: a review of current policies

William S. Comanor

Subjects: politics and public policy, public policy


* William S. Comanor INTRODUCTION There are two systems of belief regarding child support payments. The first system, which dominates academic discussions, considers these payments an important component of social insurance policy. Single-mother headed households represent a large share of all low-income households, and many believe it is the responsibility of the absent fathers to contribute to their support. Indeed, some writers assert that ‘one of the major causes of poverty in single parent families is the inadequate amount of child support’ (Del Boca and Ribero, 1998, p. 471). Even where single-mother households have higher incomes, many believe that support payments are still needed to raise living standards. When the father is absent, income levels are invariably lower since there is now only a single wage earner. Page and Stevens find that in the first year following divorce, pre-tax family income falls on average by about 42 per cent, and post-tax income by about 32 per cent1 (p. 17). To be sure, the absent father’s consumption spending is also removed from the household budget so these differences do not necessarily mean lower living standards. Despite that fact, a commonly stated objective is to assure the same household income with one parent as would exist with two. An important dimension of this belief system is that the costs of the children and those of the mother cannot really be distinguished. Incomes refer to the household, and the living standards of a mother and her children are inseparable. As a result, all...

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