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Perceptions of Fairness in Child Support

Child support is an important source of income for many families; yet, many parents eligible for an order do not have one, and nonpayment of child support remains a significant problem. In recognition of the limitations of traditional strategies, some child support agencies (CSAs) have started incorporating procedural justice approaches (i.e., approaches based on the idea that perceptions of process fairness affect an individual’s response) into their work. study explores what fairness in child support means to these stakeholders; overall perceptions of fairness and perceptions of fairness at key junctures (e.g., order establishment, modification, and enforcement); efforts underway to incorporate procedural justice principles into practice; and stakeholder visions for a more fair system.

Two Wisconsin counties participates as research sites and we conducted a total of 39 semi structured interviews with custodial and noncustodial parents, as well as child support leaders and staff. Interviews were conducted via Zoom between November 2021 and April 2022. Interviews were professionally transcribed, coded in NVivo Pro, and analyzed thematically.

Across stakeholder groups, interview participants broadly felt that child support should help ensure that children are cared for financially, with different perspectives across groups on the specifics of what role CSAs should play, and when—and for whom—child support orders are appropriate. Regarding general perceptions of fairness, interview participants across stakeholder groups felt that child support is fair for children, conceptually. Perspectives on the reality of fairness differed substantially within and across groups and reflected differences in how participants conceptualize fairness and whose vantage point they took. Perceptions of fairness at key junctures raised important issues related to referrals, communication, accessibility, and enforcement strategies. Visions for improving the system varied, though perspectives also broadly converged in several key domains, including a desire for a more family-centered, holistic model; more personalized service delivery and communication; child support services more narrowly aimed at families who want and need them; and more connections to mediation and legal resources.


Child Support, Child Support Policy Research, Custody & Placement, Enforcement, Guidelines, Orders & Payments


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