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Child Support: Interaction Between Private and Public Transfers

  • Robert I. Lerman
  • Elaine Sorensen

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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Paper provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Working Papers with number 8199.

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Date of creation: Apr 2001
Date of revision:
Publication status: published as Child Support: Interactions between Private and Public Transfers , Robert I. Lerman, Elaine Sorenson. in Means-Tested Transfer Programs in the United States , Moffitt. 2003
Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:8199
Note: PE
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  1. David Betson & Eirik Evenhouse & Siobhan Reilly & Eugene Smolensky, 1992. "Trade-offs implicit in child-support guidelines," Journal of Policy Analysis and Management, John Wiley & Sons, Ltd., vol. 11(1), pages 1-20.
  2. Robert J. Willis, 1999. "A Theory of Out-of-Wedlock Childbearing," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 107(S6), pages S33-S64, December.
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  4. Freya L. Sonenstein & Charles A. Calhoun, 1990. "Determinants Of Child Support: A Pilot Survey Of Absent Parents," Contemporary Economic Policy, Western Economic Association International, vol. 8(1), pages 75-94, 01.
  5. Maureen A. Pirog-Good & David H. Good, 1995. "Child support enforcement for teenage fathers: Problems and prospects," Journal of Policy Analysis and Management, John Wiley & Sons, Ltd., vol. 14(1), pages 25-42.
  6. Greg Duncan & Saul Hoffman, 1985. "A reconsideration of the economic consequences of marital dissolution," Demography, Springer, vol. 22(4), pages 485-497, November.
  7. Daniel R. Meyer & Mei-Chen Hu, 1999. "A Note on the Antipoverty Effectiveness of Child Support among Mother-Only Families," Journal of Human Resources, University of Wisconsin Press, vol. 34(1), pages 225-234.
  8. Laurie J. Bassi & Burt S. Barnow, 1993. "Expenditures on children and child support guidelines," Journal of Policy Analysis and Management, John Wiley & Sons, Ltd., vol. 12(3), pages 478-497.
  9. Lucia A. Nixon, 1997. "The Effect of Child Support Enforcement on Marital Dissolution," Journal of Human Resources, University of Wisconsin Press, vol. 32(1), pages 159-181.
  10. Weiss, Yoram & Willis, Robert J, 1985. "Children as Collective Goods and Divorce Settlements," Journal of Labor Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 3(3), pages 268-92, July.
  11. Wei-Yin Hu, 1999. "Child Support, Welfare Dependency, and Women's Labor Supply," Journal of Human Resources, University of Wisconsin Press, vol. 34(1), pages 71-103.
  12. Sorensen, Elaine & Clark, Sandra, 1994. "A Child-Support Assurance Program: How Much Will It Reduce Child Poverty, and at What Cost?," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 84(2), pages 114-19, May.
  13. John W. Graham & Andrea H. Beller, 1989. "The Effect of Child Support Payments on the Labor Supply of Female Family Heads: An Econometric Analysis," Journal of Human Resources, University of Wisconsin Press, vol. 24(4), pages 664-688.
  14. Irwin Garfinkel & Sara McLanahan & Kristen Harknett, 1999. "Fragile Families and Welfare Reform," JCPR Working Papers 113, Northwestern University/University of Chicago Joint Center for Poverty Research.
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