Journal Article

A Theory of Child Support

Scott Altman

in International Journal of Law, Policy and the Family

Volume 17, issue 2, pages 173-210
Published in print August 2003 | ISSN: 1360-9939
Published online August 2003 | e-ISSN: 1464-3707 | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/lawfam/17.2.173
A Theory of Child Support

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Child‐support policy has long been a battlefield for warring couples and feuding interest groups. Beneath these disagreements lie fundamental questions about why parents rather than taxpayers should fund child‐rearing costs, and how to distribute costs among parents fairly. This article evaluates theories of child support. It examines and rejects traditional theories, based on causation, children's vulnerability, and parental consent. It next evaluates less traditional accounts, which treat child‐support duties as efficiency enhancing incentives, implicit insurance premiums, aids to gender equality, and punishment for parents who harm their children. These theories counsel increased public funding for children. Greater public funding might create more efficient incentives for procreation, facilitate more sensible insurance pools, and enhance gender equality. Greater public funding could be fair based on the benefit principle: taxpayers should fund children because and to the extent that children provide public benefits. The article also argues that child support should be assigned to private parties as damages for parental wrongdoing. Parents should be compelled to pay support when they harm children by failing to demonstrate love to the child, or by failing to establish a loving relationship with the child's other parent. Child support might punish and deter these wrongs, and might mitigate consequential harms to children.

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Subjects: Family Law ; Marriage and the Family

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