Child support and the custodial mother's move or remarriage: What citizens believe the law should be

Ira Mark Ellman, Sanford L. Braver

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Whether a custodial mother's new husband earns more or less than the father, economic realities ensure his income will usually affect the child's financial well-being, sometimes dramatically. The stepfather's daily contact with the child may be more than the father's, possibly burdening father's relationship with his child, especially if mother moves with stepfather and child to a distant location. Nonetheless, the law does not usually consider remarriage and moves in setting the father's child support obligation. With remarriage now common, the tension between these traditional rules and economic and social realities may suggest the rules' reform. This article asks whether current law is consistent with citizens' beliefs about what the law should provide. A random sample of citizens was asked to set support amounts across cases with systematically varying facts about the mother's circumstances. The citizens' preferred rules, inferred from their case decisions and their answers to Likert-type questions, show considerable support for the law's taking remarriage into account, especially at higher stepfather incomes. The mother's move to a distant location does not alone affect most respondents' support judgments, but it does when combined with either remarriage or an increase in the mother's income. These effects are found in both male and female respondents, although females are less responsive than males to remarriage without relocation. Our respondents appear to consider both social and financial factors in these judgments, and to prefer rules that are more nuanced than the traditional law's categorical exclusion of remarriage and moves in support judgments.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)145-160
Number of pages16
JournalPsychology, Public Policy, and Law
Issue number2
StatePublished - May 1 2015
Externally publishedYes


  • Child support
  • Custodial parent relocation
  • Remarriage

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Psychology
  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Law


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