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Making Fathers Pay

The Enforcement of Child Support

A couple with children divorce. A court orders the father to pay child support, but the father fails to pay. This pattern repeats itself thousands of times every year in nearly every American state.

Making Fathers Pay is David L. Chambers’s study of the child-support collection process in Michigan, the state most successful in inducing fathers to pay. He begins by reporting the perilous financial problems of divorced mothers with children, problems faced even by mothers who work full time and receive child support. The study then examines the characteristics of fathers who do and do not pay support and the characteristics of collections systems that work.

Chambers’s findings are based largely on records of fathers’ support payments in twenty-eight Michigan counties, some of which jail hundreds of men for nonpayment every year. Chambers finds that in places well organized to collect support, jailing nonpayers seems to produce higher payments from men jailed and from men not jailed, but only at a high social cost. He also raises grave doubts about the fairness of the judicial process that leads to jail. While Chambers’s total sample includes 12,000 men, he interweaves through his text moving interviews with members of one family caught in the painful predicaments that men, women, and children face upon separation.

To increase support for children at lower social costs, Chambers advocates a national system of compulsory deductions from the wages of non-custodial parents who earn more than enough for their own subsistence.


380 pages | 6.00 x 9.00 | © 1979

Sociology: Sociology--Marriage and Family

Table of Contents

Part One - Introduction
1. "I’m Going to Teach You a Lesson"
2. Seeking Answers
The Friends of the Court
The Michigan Counties Studied
Part Two - Families in Divorce
3. The Divorced Families in Genesee County
The Marriages and the Children
Reasons for Wanting Out: The Divorce
A Summary Synthesis
4. The Economics of Divorce
Fixing the Order of Support
Financial Positions after Divorce
Part Three - What Makes Fathers Pay?
5. Payment of Support
Why Fathers Might Not Pay
Payment in Genesee County
6. Why Some Counties Collect More than Others
Factors That Might Explain Differences in Collections
Why Rates of Collection Differ
Dollar Costs and Returns of Jailings
Jail and Deterrence
7. Why Some Fathers Pay More than Others
A Commonsense Theory of Payments
Payments and Background Characteristics
Effects of Postseparation Events
Effects of Enforcement Efforts
Part Four - Jail
8. "All Right, Mr. Connors, Bring Up Mr. Neal"
The Jailing Process
The Genesee Enforcement Staff
Enforcement Efforts before Apprehension
Enforcement Efforts Involving a Judicial Appearance
The Power of the Officers
9. The Jailed Men
How Men Who Were Jailed Differed from Men Who Were Not
Effects of Jailing on Payments
Total Returns from Jailing
The Impacts of Long Terms in Jail
10. Justifying the Continued Use of Jail
Part Five - "Food in Their Little Stomachs, Boots in the Wintertime"
11. Alternatives and Limits
Two New Approaches
The Future of Parental Obligations of Support
Methodological Appendix
Appendix of Tables
Selected Bibliography

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