The Need for Child Support Enforcement Reform

July 9, 2019 by Robert Franklin, Member, National Board of Directors, National Parents Organization

The move toward more realistic child support policies is gaining momentum. That system has been called “broken” too many times to count for reasons this informative article makes clear (Foundation for Economic Education, 6/28/19).

The Abell Foundation issued a report authored by the former commissioner of the Office of Child Support Enforcement, Vicky Turetsky, who, during her time with the OCSE, worked tirelessly for reform.

The first problem with child support practices is that orders are often set at levels the obligor is unable to pay. That’s often because courts “impute income” to non-custodial parents. That is, they base their orders, not on actually earnings, but on what the court considers it possible for them to earn. The assumption being that parents commonly seek to lower their payments by reducing their employment. That of course may happen on occasion, but there’s essentially no evidence that it does so as a matter of course. After all, why would an adult damage his/her own standard of living just in order to damage that of the child he/she dearly loves?

The practice of setting support levels above what parents can pay became established in the 1980s due in part to an error in arithmetic by researcher Lenore Weitzman. She announced that her data showed women suffering a drop in their standard of living of 76% when they divorced. That alarmed other researchers whose numbers were nowhere near that. A decade later, Weitzman admitted that her data indicated a 24% decrease in living standards, but by then her research had formed the impetus for child support policies nationwide. State laws had been written to ameliorate a decrease in living standards that largely didn’t exist.

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