Sanford L. Braver Ph.D.
In order to justify child support laws, which compel one party to pay regular income to another without a finding that any fault or tort was committed by the payer or that any harm or victimization befell the obligee, a number of assumptions have been made . Among these are:
(1) The belief that children deserve the financial support of both parents, regardless of the parents’ marital status ; (2) that receiving child support is in the best interests of the child (i.e., those who receive more of it will have greater well-being) ; (3) that parents rather than the government should support children whenever possible ; and (4) that without such offsetting transfers, the child and the parent who lives with the child will have substantially bleaker economic prospects after divorce than the parent who does not . The first and third assumptions are expressions of moral or societal value, and as such are not amenable to empirical test. The second and fourth, however, are empirical questions which can be tested .
Assumption two, that children’s well-being is linked to the amount of child support received, has received surprisingly little empirical examination.
Only one study’ has subjected the assumption to test, with mixed results. While the association initially appears positive, what cannot be ruled out is the issue that families in which child support is regularly paid are different, in many respects, from those in which it isn’t. Perhaps it is these other factors, rather than child support per se, that truly account for any differences in children’s well-being. Some of these factors, such as level of education or income of each of the parents, have been measured and statistically controlled in past empirical investigations. However, the factors that are known to best account for children’s overall adjustment, such as level of conflict between the parents and degree of the co-parental relationship, are empirically very intertwined with child support received.2
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