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 4: Child support guidelines and equal living standards

Sanford L. Braver and David Stockburger

Subjects: politics and public policy, public policy

Extract

Sanford L. Braver and David Stockburger In 1984, the Child Support Enforcement Amendments enacted by Congress mandated that states make numeric child support guidelines available to decision-makers in every jurisdiction. In the Family Support Act of 1988, amendments to the original act required that rebuttably presumptive child support guidelines be enacted by state statute (Venohr and Williams, 1999). Thus, unless a judge decides otherwise, ordered child support amounts since the 1990s are calculated by precise formulas. Interestingly, however, the Act did not specify any given type of formula the states needed to specify nor even at what goals states’ guidelines should aim (Venohr and Williams). Most states appear to have adopted the ‘continuity of expenditure’ goal, wherein the guideline amounts attempt to assure that the children receive the same overall percentage of parental income as they would if the parents were still together (Garrison, 1999). Both the ‘income shares’ approach and the ‘percent-of-obligor-income’ standard supposedly attempt, by different means, to achieve this goal (Garrison). Despite the reasonableness of such a goal, many advocates (for example Garrison, 1999; Cassetty and Sprinkle, 1987; Eden et al, 1987), have urged that equalization of the living standards of the two households be the preferred goal instead. So far, no states have explicitly endorsed such a goal, much to their advocate’s chagrin. In fact, clearly such a goal is incompatible with the fundamental notion of child support, which is to support the child. Willis (Chapter 2 this volume) has shown that child support inevitably...

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