Public intuitions about fair child support allocations: Converging evidence for a "fair shares" rule

Sanford L. Braver, Ira Mark Ellman, Robert J. MacCoun

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


Nearly all American states use one of two systems for setting the amount of child support that noncustodial parents (NCPs) are required to pay to custodial parents (CPs). In previous work, we found that lay judgments of the child support amount the law should require differ in meaningful ways from these two systems: Our respondents favored child support amounts that are more responsive to the NCP's income and much more responsive to the CP's income than set by either system. They also favored dollar amounts that increase more rapidly with NCP income when CP income is lower, producing a characteristic fanning lines pattern when dollar support amounts are charted against NCP income for several different CP incomes. We give the label "Fair Shares" to these two features of our respondents' child support judgments. We describe six new experimental studies that vary the context of these judgments in ways that test whether the "Fair Shares" account is robust. Our studies consistently replicate the fan-shaped pattern and shed further light on lay judgments.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)146-163
Number of pages18
JournalPsychology, Public Policy, and Law
Issue number2
StatePublished - May 1 2014
Externally publishedYes


  • Child support
  • Divorce
  • Fairness intuitions
  • Family law

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Psychology
  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Law


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