Challenges for child support schemes: accounting for shared care and complex families

Elke Claessens, Universiteit Antwerpen
Dimitri Mortelmans, Universiteit Antwerpen

The determination of child support in Western societies was originally aimed at the 20th century post-divorce family: one mother with custody over the common children and one father who pays child support to compensate for the unequal sharing of the childcare costs (Meyer, Cancian & Cook, 2005). Throughout the past decades, there has been a general tendency towards shared parenting, where separated parents more equally divide the residency of their children. Furthermore, family ties have become increasingly complex due to subsequent unions and childbearing with multiple partners (Fehlberg, Smyth, Maclean & Roberts, 2011; Cancian & Meyer, 2011). These trends create challenges for child support determination based on the ‘classic’ two-parent, sole custody model. When a parent contributes to childcare costs through a shared parenting arrangement or has a new family to support, the consideration must be made if and how this merits an adjustment to what would constitute a ‘traditional’ child support order. While comparative research has shown that most countries account for shared care and complex families in the determination of child support (Skinner, Bradshaw & Davidson, 2007), how this is achieved has not been thoroughly investigated. As these challenges are faced all over Western society, gaining further insight in how they are dealt with in different child support systems is important for future policy decisions on the modern post-divorce family. In this paper, we conduct an in-depth comparative analysis of how shared care and complex families are incorporated in the determination of child support in eight different countries. The observed similarities and differences will help to deepen our understanding of how Western child support systems are being challenged and in turn provide useful insights as to how they can be dealt with.

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Presented in Session 19: Policy Issues