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Ellman co-authors new article on British attitudes about child maintenance

June 25, 2013

New findings from the British Social Attitudes survey reveal the British public believes the government should force fathers to pay considerably more in child support than current British law requires, especially when they earn more than the mothers. The study, published on June 25 by the British National Center for Social Research, was co-authored by professor Ira Ellman of the Sandra Day O'Connor College of Law at Arizona State University, and is based on face-to-face interviews with 3,200 British subjects.

The findings of the report, “Child maintenance: How much the state should require fathers to pay when families separate,” come at a time when the British government plans to reduce state involvement in child maintenance arrangements.

According to the report:

• 60 percent of people say that the law should set a minimum amount for child maintenance, rather than leaving it to parents to decide. Only 17 percent disagree.

• Only 20 percent of the public believe the law should never force fathers who are not living with their children to pay child maintenance, compared with 59 percent who disagree.

• These views are largely shared by men and women, by respondents who have paid or received child support payments, and by British subjects affiliated with all three of the major British political parties.

“The data show that the British public thinks non-resident parents with a good income should pay child maintenance at a level that would provide their children not just with the basics, but with some of the amenities of a comfortable home,” said Ellman, the Charles J. Merriam Distinguished Professor of Law and an Affiliate Professor of Psychology at ASU.

The study is co-authored by Caroline Bryson, a partner at Bryson Purdon Social Research, Stephen McKay, Distinguished Professor of Social Research at the University of Lincoln, and Joanna Miles, Fellow in Law at Trinity College, University of Cambridge.

“It is clear then that the current statutory child maintenance system falls far short of the public’s expectations, both in terms of its ability to ensure that families receive the maintenance due and in terms of the levels of maintenance required when fathers do pay,” the authors concluded. “The next couple of years will involve major changes for separated parents who would ordinarily turn to the state to facilitate their maintenance arrangements. Our findings suggest that these changes will move child maintenance policy further still from public opinion about what the state’s role should be.”

Click here to read the full article.

Ellman’s current scholarly projects focus on an empirical investigation into how people make judgments about appropriate legal rules. This study, based on work Ellman initially did in the United States, was funded by a $309,000 grant from the Nuffield Foundation in London. In addition to his appointments at ASU, Ellman is an affiliate faculty member of the Center for Child and Youth Policy at the University of California at Berkeley.