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The Theory of Child Support

58 Pages Posted: 25 Apr 2008  

Ira Mark Ellman

Arizona State University College of Law; Arizona State University (ASU) - Department of Psychology; Center for the Study of Law and Society, Berkeley Law, University of California, Berkeley

Tara Ellman



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.

Keywords: child support, law and psychology, law and economics, children, divorce, parental obligations

JEL Classification: J12, J13, J16, K39

Suggested Citation

Ellman, Ira Mark and Ellman, Tara, The Theory of Child Support. Harvard Journal on Legislation, Vol. 45, No. 1, 2008. Available at SSRN:

Ira Mark Ellman (Contact Author)

Arizona State University College of Law ( email )

Box 877906
Phoenix, AZ
United States
480-965-2125 (Phone)


Arizona State University (ASU) - Department of Psychology ( email )

950 S. McAllister Ave
P. O. Box 871104
Tempe, AZ 85287-1104
United States

Center for the Study of Law and Society, Berkeley Law, University of California, Berkeley ( email )

Berkeley, CA 94720-2150
United States

Tara Ellman

Independent ( email )

No Address Available

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