Methods: To examine the framing of child support, we retrieved the most recent, publicly available government documents from each country and entered them into the software program, ‘Wmatrix’. Using this program, we compared the rhetorical devices used in each country’s corpus of texts to provide instances where the rhetoric was either largely consistent or dissimilar across the four countries. Following the methods of discursive institutionalism, the investigators then interpreted these discourses given the unique policy settings that exist in each country.
Results: The four countries share similar policy origins, and all highlight child support’s role in lessening poverty. However, the four countries diverge considerably with respect to their policy goal, as revealed by the way child support interacts with welfare benefits. For example, in New Zealand, all child support payments are retained by the state if the resident parent is a benefit recipient, limiting the effect on poverty. Conversely, the UK has little role in determining obligation amounts (beyond offering guidance) and plays almost no role in transferring payments or in enforcing payments, unless parents choose to opt-in and pay fees for collection and enforcement services. However, all money received is retained by the recipient. Australia typically assumes full child support compliance irrespective of payment reality, which reduces government benefit outlays and resident parents’ incomes. Finally, while US states set policy for how much support benefit recipients can keep, states are being encouraged to lower obligations for low-income non-resident parents. Our analysis shows that the rhetoric supporting child support policy has some similarities across countries and some consistencies with the policies in place, but in part the rhetoric is disconnected from the actual policy effects.
Conclusions/Implications: The rhetoric justifying child support policy is relatively similar across these countries; however, the policies have important differences. One implication for policymakers is that administrative tools from one context cannot easily or unproblematically be implemented in another context without considering the system’s inherent logic. Researchers also need to examine a policy’s actual effects; not merely be content the stated goals are achieved.