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Child Support and Low-Income Families: Perceptions, Practices, and Policy

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Abstract:

Child support has become a pressing policy concern in California. The shortcomings of the state’s child support system have prompted both a new state department and numerous proposals for reform. This study poses a key question: why does the child support system break down for so many low-income families? Part of the answer lies in the mismatch between child support policy and the experiences of many low-income parents. As a result of this mismatch, many poor parents prefer informal arrangements to full compliance with regulations that they perceive to be unfair, counterproductive, or punitive. The authors, Maureen Waller and Robert Plotnick, conclude that child support policy should honor both the need for effective enforcement and constraints on low-income families.