Child Maintenance Reforms: Understanding fathers' expressive agency and the power of reciprocity

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The controversial Child Support Acts have produced little policy impact over the years. The majority of nonresident parents (mainly fathers) simply do not pay, despite the introduction of a dedicated agency focused entirely on improving child maintenance compliance. This behaviour sits in uncomfortable juxtaposition with the moral and socio-economic expectation that parents should put their children’s needs first. Such contrary behaviour is inexplicable to many; not least to policy makers who have made numerous policy adjustments and sought ever more powerful enforcement measures to increase compliance. This paper argues that the policy making process has been blighted by the ‘assumptive world of policy makers’ which understands noncompliance in singular terms; as instrumental rational action and indicative of selfish individualism. Yet, some evidence shows that the behaviour of nonresident fathers are not explicable in these rational terms, but is rooted more in expressive aspects of agency where they want ongoing meaningful relationships with their children. This paper proposes that the collision between the assumptive worlds of policy makers and separated fathers’ behaviour might be eased somewhat as a result of the latest policy framework which returns child maintenance decision making back into the hands of parents, albeit in the shadow of a potentially more powerful enforcement agency. This gives rise for some cautious optimism re the latest Coalition Government policy proposals.
Original languageEnglish
Article number5
Pages (from-to)242-265
Number of pages24
JournalInternational Journal of Law, Policy and the Family
Issue number2
Early online date21 Jun 2013
Publication statusPublished - Aug 2013


  • Child Maintenance
  • Non-resident fathers
  • Noncompliance
  • Rational Action
  • Expressive Action
  • Reciprocity

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