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29 J. Am. Acad. Matrim. Law. 269 (2017)


Most, if not all, of the theoretical work on child support presupposes that it becomes an issue only when couples separate, that is, that the flow moves between custody and child support and that the duty to make monetary payments is typically owed by the noncustodial parent. (I realize, of course, that there can be issues regarding the identity of the payor and that there are criminal and civil actions possible when parents refuse or neglect to provide support to dependent children.) Some empirical work confirms the relationship between the two. For example, Judith Seltzer, Weiss and Willis, and Brinig and Buckley in the early 1990s showed that more frequent access to children was associated with more adherence to court ordered support. This intuition has been confirmed by the research team from the Institute for Poverty at the University of Wisconsin. More recently, psychologist Robert Emery and his colleagues have demonstrated that mediated child custody decisions tend to result in higher payment of child support. In fact, one impetus of the custody mediation movement has been to strengthen and stabilize parental relationships (custody) to secure more support security. Child support guidelines that adjust to account for shared parenting also presuppose that custodial arrangements determine (or at least affect) child support. However, there are some indications that the direction of flow may be ambiguous. Web sites for fathers’ rights groups couple the two, but suggest that unfair child support “tribute” is a reason for demanding equal parenting time. In Illinois, Oregon, and perhaps other states, enforcement of parenting time/visitation orders now mirrors the stringent remedies mandated for child support. Child support enforcement agencies study whether noncustodial parents seek parenting time that would just reach thresholds for reduction in child support. Since 2014, child support enforcement agencies establishing support primarily to recoup TANF payments offer voluntary establishment of parenting time arrangements. Some feminist scholars, concerned about the parenting time drift first noted by Maccoby and Mnookin in the early 1990s, question whether the modern increases in parenting time reflect a desire of noncustodial parents to opportunistically claim more time with children than they actually want, or will use. This project, both theoretical and empirical, will develop these questions, answering some of them based upon a longitudinal study of more than 1000 divorcing and separating couples in two US states.

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