Child support laws: Public opinion vs. reality: Part I

When it comes to family law issues, everyone has an opinion. While many people will never go through a divorce or child custody dispute, it is nonetheless tempting to form an opinion about family law issues based on one’s own experiences.

It should come as no surprise, then, that public attitudes about divorce, child custody, child support and alimony are often very different from the laws in a given state. Indeed, the public often makes assumptions about what laws say based on their own opinions of what the laws “should be.”

In this week’s posts, we’ll be discussing the disconnect between how the public thinks/feels about child support and what the laws actually specify. The data comes from a long-term study, the results of which were released earlier this month.

For over a decade, researchers gauged public opinions about child support. In many cases, participants were asked to “play judge” and respond to a number of hypothetical scenarios involving child support calculation.

According to the results, the public was very much in favor of modifying child support amounts based on the changing income of non-custodial parent. That being said, respondents held different beliefs regarding men’s income vs. women’s income. Generally, respondents felt that it was appropriate to modify support orders if the mother’s income went up or down. However, researchers found that the public believed fathers who have been ordered to pay child support should continue to pay a fixed percentage of their income regardless of changes in income.

Also noteworthy was the public’s attitude about step-parents and child support obligations. In many states, child support orders don’t change simply because a parent gets remarried. This is, in part, because step-parents generally don’t have legal responsibility for their step-children.

But according to the study, the public believes that when the custodial parent gets remarried, the new spouse’s income should be a factor affecting child support amounts paid by the non-custodial parent. This could be argued from a practical perspective, because a new spouse often means a reduced financial hardship for the custodial parent and increased financial resources for the child/children.

Please check back later this week as we continue our discussion. We’ll talk about how Missouri’s child support laws work and how they may differ from the public opinions cited in this study.

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