Child Support: Interactions between Private and Public Transfers
In: Means-Tested Transfer Programs in the United States
Child support is a private transfer that is integral to the means-tested public transfer system. Support payments generally lower the budget costs of welfare as well the incentives for parents to participate. The Child Support Enforcement (CSE) program, which establishes and enforces support obligations, also affects the incentives of the non-custodial parent donors and ultimately the distribution of incomes. While not formally income-tested, CSE still targets low-income families because so many custodial families are poor. This paper reviews the history of the CSE program; the economic rationale for government's role; trends in support awards and payments; the importance of child support to low-income families; the capacity of non-custodial parents to pay child support; trends in costs, financing and effectiveness of the CSE program; the effects of child support on behavior; equity issues in child support; and proposals for reform. Despite efficiency gains in the CSE program, especially in establishing paternity, a shift in the composition of cases has offset these improvements, causing support payments per custodial mother to rise only modestly in real terms.
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