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Child Support Policy: Areas of Emerging Agreement and Ongoing Debate

American Enterprise Institute

November 9, 2023

This paper will be delivered at the Association for Public Policy Analysis & Management 2023 Fall Research Conference.


The Child Support Enforcement (CSE) system has a broad scope and provides important resources to economically vulnerable children who live apart from one of their parents. Yet, it is subject to critique for intervening too much, too little, or in the wrong ways. In this paper, we then consider some long-term issues of concern, identifying areas of emerging agreement (at least between the two authors), and exploring some of the fundamental questions that remain to be addressed. We argue that CSE reduces child poverty, helps to promote parental responsibility especially for parents living apart from their children, and for many families is a convenience. Contrary to early proponents of the program, we argue that CSE should not be used for cost recovery; collected child support should always directly benefit children, not offset government costs. Finally, we outline areas of agreement and disagreement related to mandated cooperation with CSE. In this way, we aim to clarify both areas where bipartisan policy reforms may be more feasible, and areas that remain particularly challenging.

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