The History Of Child Support

This history appears at first to have been similar to early English history of child support. Communities rescued destitute people, including lone mothers and children, often by putting them to work, and then attempted to recoup their costs from relatives such as fathers. The money was limited to amounts needed to avoid destitution, and was claimed by the community, not by individuals such as the lone mother or personal helpers of the lone mother.

Later, the systems diverged, the child support approaches became an addition to "the welfare state". The National Assistance Act of 1948 saw the state unconditionally taking on some of the responsibilities that would once have been between local communities and relatives. The state eventually provided universal family allowances (called "Child Benefit" for decades). Most other "Western" countries had something similar. Nations with somewhat socialist tendencies such as Denmark were able to have much milder child support systems. Such universal benefits lessened or delayed the need for aggressive child support, such as enacting criminal offences.

Then the US developed a more aggressive child support obligation during the 19th Century, with criminal law being enacted for the fathers causing mothers and their children to become a burden on the community and or the tax payers. While there were federal initiatives such as AFDC for poorer children, there was little for better off lone parents and their children. In the late 20th Century, AFDC was replaced with TANF. Child support is typically an anti-socialist measure, aimed at reducing welfare spending, and the US has looked to it to assist with its anti-socialist / anti-welfare policies such as TANF. However, fathers and children suffer under the child support obligations while some fathers are put in prisons further exasperating the family structure and purpose.

The states of the US differ from one-another in their child support laws, and in the way, they implement those laws. The "Uniform Acts" were drafted by the Uniform Law Commissioners to promote uniformity in state law on all subjects where uniformity is desirable and practicable, but the uniformity has of yet not taken place.

Child Support in the 13 Colonies

Child support law existed in the thirteen colonies and has existed in the states since the beginning of the nation's history. At first, courts developed civil law for child support. This especially enabled communities that kept lone mothers and children out of destitution to put in claim on the fathers. (1808 Stanton v. Wilson)

American courts addressed the problem of dependency among single mothers and their children by creating a legally enforceable child support duty. One reason for the divergent fortunes of men and women after a divorce was that the transformations in the American conception of children from wage earners to dependents who needed constant nurturing and the trend toward maternal preference in custody decisions combined to require divorced women to bear the burden of raising children who did not work. American courts in the nineteenth century invented a parental child support obligation in the context of increasing concerns about dependency among single mothers. When single motherhood began to emerge in nineteenth-century America, the judiciary was the only institution of the American state that could deal with dependency among single mothers and their children. The ‘poor’ laws were being overwhelmed by population growth and urbanization, and private charities and state ‘poor-relief agencies’ had not yet appeared. The first child support statutes built on this judicial innovation, codifying a child support system that relied primarily on payments from absent parents, instead of on public support for families.

See: 1816 Van Valkinburgh v. Watson New York, 1858 Tompkins v. Tompkins New Jersey around about 1870 and onward is the development of criminal laws for parents failing to support children. Now states started to pass laws against desertion and nonsupport. It started to become a criminal offence, with punishments including prison. In addition, gradually it became possible for individuals, such as lone mothers, to claim child support.

By 1886 compilation of statutes are done, 11 states had made it a penal offence for a father to abandon or refuse to support his minor children. Typically, it still needed evidence that without this support the children would be a cost to the community.

Also in 1884, states started taking action on fathers who were criminally responsible for allowing children to become a public charge. The New York statute punished non-supporting fathers with imprisonment and hard labor; see 1897 Bowen v. State of Ohio, 1903 State of RI v. Peabody. As the state court system continued to operate. The number of separated families continued to rise. Then comes along the Social Security Act of 1935 (Public Law 74-271) this included Aid for Dependent Children. ADC (later AFDC; F = Families) established a partnership between the federal government and the states by providing appropriations to those states which adopted plans approved by the Secretary of Health and Human Services. The states in turn provided a minimum monthly subsistence payment to families meeting established need requirements. This later gradually drove child support enforcement, in order to reduce expenditure on AFDC.

In most industrialized nations, private child support payments are not a central way in which the community makes sure that children are adequately supported. Instead, most industrialized nations have some kind of child allowances financed by the public or by employers that go to all families. In England, for instance, families receive a universal "Child Benefits" to defray the costs of raising children; and all single-parent families receive an additional "One Parent Benefit". However, although the United States has generous, publicly funded benefits such as Social Security and Medicare for elderly Americans, no comparable program exists for children. The Amended Social Security Act of 1950 (Public Law 81-734) required state welfare agencies to notify law enforcement officials when providing AFDC to a child.

The Social Security Amendments of 1965 (Public Law 89-97) Allowed welfare agencies to obtain addresses and employers of obligated parents from the U.S. Department of Health, Education and Welfare. The Social Security Amendments of 1967 (Public Law 90-248) Allowed states access to the IRS data banks for addresses of obligated parents. Each state was required to establish a single child support unit for AFDC children.

A response by Congress to reduce public expenditures on welfare by obtaining support from non-custodial parents on an ongoing basis, to help non-AFDC families get support so they could stay off public assistance, and to establish paternity for children born outside marriage so child support could be obtained for them. Mandated that the State plan for child support require States to cooperate with other States in establishing paternity, locating absent parents, and securing compliance with court orders.

Under the new law, each State must operate a CSE Program meeting Federal requirements in order to be eligible for TANF funds (which replaced AFDC). This law made about 50 changes to the CSE Program, many of them major. These changes included requiring States to increase the percentage of fathers identified, establishing an integrated, automated network linking all States to information about the location and assets of parents, requiring States to implement more enforcement techniques, and revising the rules governing the distribution of past due (arrearage) child support payments to former recipients of public assistance.

Under the new law, states can implement tough child support enforcement techniques such as withholding wages, seizing assets, and revoking driving and professional licenses of those parents who owe child support.

The USA continues to pursue its own approach towards the common objectives of reducing child poverty and reducing welfare spending. Part of this may be because states, rather than the federal government, have historically had the jurisdiction for family matters.