Child maintenance: how much should the state require fathers to pay when families separate?

26 September 2013

Caroline Bryson, Bryson Purdon Social Research

Ira Mark Ellman, Arizona State University

Stephen McKay, University of Lincoln

Joanna Miles, University of Cambridge

Millions of British households are eligible to receive child maintenance from non-resident parents, but fewer than one-third receive payments regularly, and two-thirds receive nothing. Many would not be in poverty if they regularly received the appropriate maintenance payments. The Government nonetheless plans to reduce the state's role in setting amounts and enforcing their payment. This article reports on a comprehensive study of the British public's views on these issues, in which 3,248 randomly chosen members of the British public were asked to stae, in pounds, the amount of child maintenance they believed the law should require the father to pay for each of a series of families in different financial and family circumstances. The study found the public believes  (1) the state should set the amount of, and enforce, child maintenance payments; (2) amounts should be considerably higher than currently called for in the CSA formula, especially at higher paternal incomes; (3) fathers should pay a higher percentage of their income in child maintenance when either their income is more, or the mother's income is less, unlike the state formula that applies the same percentage to all fathers without regard to either parent's income; (4) even low-income parents should pay at least some child maintenance; and (5) the purpose of child support goes beyond ensuring the child has necessities, to also provide the child with amenities, when the father's income allows. While there was some variation among population subgroups in the details, these five basic principles were favoured by both men and women, by those with more or less income or education, and without regard to the respondent's self-identified party affiliation.

The full version of this article appears in the October 2013 issue of Family Law.

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