The theory of child support

Ira Mark Ellman, Tara O.Toole Ellman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

17 Scopus citations


More Americans are subject to child support orders, either as obligor or obligee, than to any other civil judgment. Federal law requires each state to have its own guidelines to determine the dollar amounts of most support orders. What principles should decide the design of such guidelines and thus the amount of support to be ordered? What do these fundamental principles say about the impact that a parent's marriage or remarriage should have on the support order? This Article explains why the method most states use to develop child support guidelines prevents productive attention to questions like these. The Article then identifies the four fundamental policy considerations rulemakers are likely to believe relevant, and offers a new method for creating or revising support guidelines that would ensure the guidelines in fact reflect the rulemaker's preferred balance among these four considerations. The recommended method would replace the conventional approach employed by most of the consultants that states rely upon to prepare their guidelines, because the conventional method's exclusive focus on marginal child expenditures prevents such a balanced analysis.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)107-163
Number of pages57
JournalHarvard Journal on Legislation
Issue number1
StatePublished - Dec 1 2008

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Law


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