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 2: Child support and the problem of economic incentives

Robert J. Willis

Subjects: politics and public policy, public policy


* Robert J. Willis 1. INTRODUCTION High divorce rates together with the growth of non-marital fertility has led to an increased proportion of children who spend a significant portion of their childhood living in female-headed households or in blended families headed by a male who is not their father. These trends have provoked considerable alarm about the demise of the traditional family and concern about potentially harmful effects on the well-being of children. Economic theories of the family, marriage and divorce have important implications for the impact of marital and living arrangements on the economic contributions that each parent makes to enhance the welfare of his or her children. In previous work Yoram Weiss and I showed that, relative to marriage, divorce reduces the incentives of both parents to devote resources to their children. In particular, divorce may lead a non-custodial father who served as an exemplary breadwinner for his wife and children during marriage to become, upon divorce, a ‘deadbeat dad’ who fails to pay child support (Weiss and Willis, 1985). This change in behaviour occurs even if it is assumed that the strength of the father’s concern for his children’s welfare remains unchanged. The goal of this chapter is to present the reasoning behind this and other theoretical results in the economic literature in terms that can be understood by lawyers, judges, counsellors and other non-economists who deal with child support issues. The failure of non-custodial fathers to volunteer adequate support payments for their children or to...

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