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Family Law

The leading authority on all aspects of family law

18 JUN 2012

Lay intuitions about child support and marital status [2011] CFLQ 465

Given the fact that the child and custodial parent generally share a living standard, there is some tension between the traditional rule excluding marital status altogether as a consideration in setting child support levels, and the traditional American rule making marriage an absolute requirement in claims by one spouse against the other for support (traditionally, ‘alimony') for herself. How should that tension be resolved? This paper is part of a larger project investigating how ordinary citizens resolve such policy problems, by asking them to decide a series of cases that systematically vary critical facts so as to reveal the underlying principles animating their views. This study extends the authors' prior child support studies by (a) expanding the range of paternal incomes presented to respondents, and (b) examining the effect of the parents' marital status and relational duration. We replicate our prior findings on the impact of parental incomes, and the disparity between them, across the expanded income range, and our finding that, overall, citizens favour higher support amounts than the law provides when custodial parent income is low, but lower support amounts when the custodial parent income is higher. We also now find that our respondents would increase support awards for low income mothers (over current levels) by larger amounts when parents had married than when they had cohabited, and would give the lowest awards to mothers who had had no relationship at all with the father beyond the single sexual act leading to the child's conception. We explain why the pattern of their support awards suggests that in setting child support levels our respondents give more weight than current American law to the children's interests.

 

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