Abstract: Child Support Policy Around the World: Similar Problems, Different Approaches (Society for Social Work and Research 26th Annual Conference - Social Work Science for Racial, Social, and Political Justice)

Child Support Policy Around the World: Similar Problems, Different Approaches

Thursday, January 13, 2022
Independence BR F, ML 4 (Marriott Marquis Washington, DC)
* noted as presenting author
Mia Hakovirta, PhD, Academy Research Fellow, University of Turku, Finland
Laura Cuesta, PhD, Assistant Professor, Rutgers University, New Brunswick, NJ
Daniel Meyer, PhD, Professor of Social Work, University of Wisconsin - Madison, WI
Mari Haapanen, PhD, Research Assistant, University of Turku, Finland
Background and purpose: Most countries are experiencing a rise in single-parent families, and in most of these countries the children in these families are economically vulnerable. Facing these worldwide trends, countries have established different policies for whether and how much support nonresident parents (typically fathers) should provide for their children. A few studies describing child support policy and its effects around the world have been completed, but the prior work is limited in being focused on only a few countries, and some of the research is now outdated. In this paper we aim to provide an up-to-date overview of what is known about child support policy worldwide and the potential implications for the U.S. For a broad range of countries, we provide data on the context of child support policy and a high-level of description of the key areas of policy. For 14 countries, we provide more detailed data on the amounts due for several hypothetical families and the consequences if these orders are not paid.

Methods: The overviews of country child support policies are based on a systematic literature review using SocINDEX, Heinonline, and Google Scholar covering all articles written in English since 2010 and using the key words “child support” and “child maintenance.” The level of orders and consequences of nonpayment are based on a vignette method and 14 countries. Vignettes included the characteristics of hypothetical families, and country experts provided data on typical outcomes for these families. We compare responses through descriptive statistics and tabular analysis.

Results: There is substantial literature on child support policy in high-income countries, especially in Europe, but much less is known about middle- and low-income countries. Nonetheless, our preliminary analyses have identified policy information in at least 45 countries. The 14-country analysis shows substantial variation across countries in the amount due, with the U.S. and Estonia having the highest orders. In all countries, punishments can be applied to those not paying. Nine of the 14 countries have a guaranteed payment policy, with the government making up any amount not paid by the other parent, so that the custodial parent is not completely dependent on the other parent for these resources. The U.S. does not have this type of policy.

Conclusions and Implications: This paper provides insight into alternative policies that the U.S. could consider. We pay particular attention to how the U.S. could learn from the guaranteed child support schemes, given that that this has recently been proposed by the U.S. National Academies as part of their policy package to lessen child poverty.