Child Support Policies Should Focus on Noncomplying Parents

By Henderson, Zorika Petic | Human Ecology Forum, Winter 1995 | Go to article overview

Child Support Policies Should Focus on Noncomplying Parents


Henderson, Zorika Petic, Human Ecology Forum


Half of all marriages end in divorce, and 40 percent of children will spend some of their childhood in single-parent families as a result.

Child support payments are often inadequate to provide for children's basic needs, and 50 percent of noncustodial fathers who are required to pay child support don't pay the full amount. Twenty-five percent of noncustodial fathers pay no support at all.

To determine when intervention will improve child support compliance, says H. Elizabeth Peters, associate professor of consumer economics and housing, it's important to understand how the initial divorce settlement is determined.

Peters and co-researchers Laura M. Argys, assistant professor of economics at the University of Colorado, Eleanor E. Maccoby, professor of psychology at Stanford University, and Robert H. Mnookin, professor of law at Harvard, analyzed data from the Stanford Child Custody Project to see what influenced divorce settlements.

The data set includes information on 1,000 families who filed divorce petitions in San Mateo or Santa Clara counties during 1984 and 1985. The sample was restricted to families with children age 16 or younger at the first survey. Information was obtained from court records and from a series of interviews, starting within six months of filing for divorce and concluding three years later, with both mothers and fathers.

"Two kinds of families exist - those who can cooperate and come to self-enforcing agreements and those who are not cooperative and require government action to insure compliance," observes Peters.

"Cooperative parents who can make voluntary, informal agreements are able to modify the payments when circumstances warrant," she explains. "Consider a situation in which payments to the mother are reduced when the children spend more overnights with the father. In this case, reduced child support does not necessarily mean that fewer resources are being spent on the children, as long as the father provides for the children during the time they spend in his household. …

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