Objectives of child support across nations & centuries
This page is being evolved as part of a long-term project.
Why do countries operate child support systems?
This is a matter that needs to be deduced from the history. But time
after time the answer always appears to be for one or both (ultimately
both) of the following objectives. Everything else is just detail.
- To reduce child poverty.
- To reduce welfare spending.
Perceptions depend on the order in which things are done. For example,
suppose that the social security (welfare) programme makes the first move
(eg. Income Support) in order to relieve child poverty, and child support
is added later. (This is the typical sequence - in the USA AFDC came before
the latest child support reforms).
|First: Income Support
tops up a lone parent's income to poverty relief levels.
||"Social security reduces child
|Later: Child support
dictates how much the other parent pays. It enforces this payment.
The child support goes to the lone parent, but the Income Support
is reduced by exactly the same amount.
||"Child support is a Treasury-driven
exercise to reduce social security expenditure (hence taxes), even
though this keeps children at poverty-relief levels."
But suppose things happened in a different order, and child support came
first. (This does not normally happen. Child support tends to be an after-thought
when nations realise they can't afford the full implications of social
security / welfare without help from the other parents).
|First: Child support
dictates how much the other parent pays, and this goes to the lone
parent. It enforces this payment.
||"Child support reduces child
|Later: Income Support
tops up the lone parent's income to poverty relief levels, taking
child support payments fully into account by reducing social security
by exactly the same amount.
||"Social security is a miserly
spending programme, exploiting the child support system in a Treasury-driven
way in order to reduce social security expenditure (hence taxes),
even though this keeps children at poverty-relief levels."
The legal and financial end result is the same in both
sequences. Only the perceptions differ. Child support is simply "child
poverty reduction" and "welfare spending reduction" with
a bad press, because it arrived later!
Much of the material here on European child maintenance / support systems
originated in Corden, which is recommended for
anyone with a serious interest in the many different faces of such systems
across Europe. Here are some results from this book:
"The countries studied were Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Finland,
France, Germany, the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden and the UK. Each regime
developed from a different legal and historical background, but the
general pattern has been towards equal treatment for all children in
respect of child maintenance, irrespective of the marital status of
their parents. There has also been increasing emphasis on the rights
of the child, with the Nordic countries in the forefront of this approach.
"In several countries, child maintenance is due to the child,
rather than to the resident parent as in the UK. The more child-centred
approaches are those in which there has been furthest development of
schemes to 'advance' and thus guarantee at least part of the maintenance
due. In comparison with other European countries, maintenance is withdrawn
at an early age in the UK. By contrast, child maintenance remains due
through university education in Austria, Finland, Germany and the Netherlands.
"Each country has different structural and administrative arrangements.
Decisions about whether and how much child maintenance is payable are
made variously by parents themselves (with or without help), by court
judges or officials, or by administrative staff in social security or
welfare offices. The courts have a greater role in maintenance determination
in cases of divorce or separation in Germany, the Netherlands, France,
Belgium and Austria, although procedures may build upon preliminary
voluntary arrangements made between parents. In Norway and Sweden, it
is local social security staff who assess liability of non-resident
parents to repay the state for advanced maintenance, and in Finland,
determinations of maintenance are handled by the municipal social welfare
"In terms of the criteria used, the regime in Denmark stands out
as one without major problems or negative outcomes for any participant
groups. The level of entitlement in Denmark is relatively low, but in
the Danish universalist welfare state, where the emphasis in support
for lone parents is on labour market participation and state support,
levels of child maintenance are not controversial.
"The regimes in the other Nordic countries also 'work well' in
terms of: delivering support to all children with a formal entitlement;
the transparency of determinations and responsiveness to change in circumstances;
the speed at which determinations are made; and the absence of constraint
on resident parents' decisions to take work. However, these countries
share with most others the problem that liability for child maintenance
may introduce work disincentives for non-resident parents.
"Increasingly, in all countries, concern about relationships between
parents, and between parents and children, is entering the debate about
child maintenance. In all countries, there is much to learn about links
perceived by parents between the maintenance due, their contacts with
children and the way parents who live apart may share the care of their
Corden: Making child maintenance regimes
Family Policy Studies Centre & Joseph Rowntree Foundation