The Purpose of Child Support


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 fills that gap. It shows that the federally-required guidelines that determine most support orders generally conflict with the policies they are meant to further, explains how this conflict is the unintended but inevitable consequence of the methods most states rely upon for constructing their guidelines, and 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 replacement.


Family Law | Law and Economics | Law and Gender | Law and Psychology | Law and Society | Legislation | Public Law and Legal Theory | Social Welfare Law

Date of this Version

August 2006