The Theory of Child Support
Ira Mark Ellman
Arizona State University College of Law
Harvard Journal on Legislation, Vol. 45, No. 1, 2008
What is the appropriate amount of child support to require in particular cases? How should we take account, if at all, of subsequent events such as either parent's remarriage? It seems obvious that the answers to such questions ought to turn on our purpose in requiring support payments in the first place. But while fixing the amount of child support can be politically contentious, and has attracted the attention of partisans on both sides of the gender gap, the literature contains no systematic examination of support rules in light of their underlying policy purpose. This article identifies the three fundamental policy purpose that explain why we require child support, shows that the federally-required guidelines that determine most support orders are not usually designed to further those policies, and shows why this design failure is the unintended but inevitable consequence of the economic anaysis most states rely upon for constructing their guidelines. The Article offers a new method for setting support guidelines that would ensure they reflect the policymakers' purpose. It draws on work in law and economics, and psychology, in analyzing current practice and in formulating its suggested alternative.
Number of Pages in PDF File: 58
Keywords: child support, law and psychology, law and economics, children, divorce, parental obligations
JEL Classification: J12, J13, J16, K39Accepted Paper Series
Date posted: April 25, 2008
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