Abstract: Child Support Policy in Middle and Low-Income Countries: Current Approaches and Policy Dilemmas (Society for Social Work and Research 27th Annual Conference - Social Work Science and Complex Problems: Battling Inequities + Building Solutions)

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Child Support Policy in Middle and Low-Income Countries: Current Approaches and Policy Dilemmas

Friday, January 13, 2023
Alhambra, 2nd Level (Sheraton Phoenix Downtown)
* noted as presenting author
Laura Cuesta, PhD, Assistant Professor, Rutgers University, New Brunswick, NJ
Mia Hakovirta, PhD, Academic Researcher, University of Turku, Finland
Mari Haapanen, PhD, Research Assistant, University of Turku, Finland
Daniel Meyer, PhD, Professor, University of Wisconsin - Madison, Madison, WI
Background: Child support from a nonresident parent is a critical source of income for children living with only one of the parents (the resident parent), especially those at risk of experiencing poverty and material hardship. Prior research has examined child support policy in some high-income countries. However, little is known about how middle and low-income countries approach how much support nonresident parents should provide for their children. We contribute to addressing this research gap by conducting the first cross-national comparison of child support policy in 31 middle and low-income countries. We aim to answer three research questions: 1) How do these countries approach child support policy in terms of institutional arrangements, procedures for determining how much child support is due, how payment occurs, and how obligations are monitored and enforced? 2) How much child support is received in these countries? and 3) What are the key dilemmas these countries face in their approach to child support policy?

Data and Methods: To answer the first question we use data obtained from a systematic review of articles written in English since 2010; we use the key words “child support” and “child maintenance” in searches conducted in SocINDEX, Heinonline, and Google Scholar databases. For the second question, we use the Luxembourg Income Study (LIS) to provide descriptive statistics on child support receipt in 6 middle- and low-income countries included in this dataset. Our systematic review along with published data on family trends and socioeconomic indicators informs our discussion about policy dilemmas faced by middle- and low-income countries in their approach to child support policy.

Results: Our analyses show that parents can make their own agreements, but in most countries this private agreement must be ratified by another body to be binding. In most countries courts play a role in the determination of child support obligations; no country relies on public agencies alone, and very few countries rely on both courts and public agencies. There is no universal method to calculate how much child support is due. Policy approaches range from full discretion in some countries to established procedures in others. Some of the mechanisms to enforce compliance with child support obligations include liens, holding people in contempt of court, and prohibition of international travel. Our analysis of child support outcomes also shows that child support receipt is relatively low in most countries. Key policy dilemmas faced by middle- and low-income countries include grappling with multiple systems of marriage (which imply multiple processes for union dissolution), highly informal economies, and relatively weak enforcement programs.

Conclusions and Implications: We found similarities and differences in policy approaches and child support outcomes among the middle- and low-income countries included in our sample. Compared to high-income countries, child support receipt is less likely, and amounts transferred are generally lower in middle- and low-income countries. Governmental support seems crucial to ensure that children in resident-parent families receive adequate economic resources in middle- and low-income countries. Comparative research can help to identify which approaches are most effective.