Gender Inequality: Machinations of 'fairness' in latest Australian Child Support Inquiry

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Child support is money paid by parents to support their children following parental separation. It is a private family obligation. But governments in western democracies have an interest in ensuring child support is paid, both arranging and enforcing it either through the courts or, through an administrative agency that applies standardised rules and formulae. In 1993, the UK moved to an administrative scheme under the Child Support Agency, which was closely modelled on Australia’s scheme introduced in 1988-1989. A highly controversial policy, the UK has struggled to ensure fathers pay child support. Finding a ‘fair’ formula has been an enduring part of that controversy, not least because such a pursuit clashes head on with patterns of gender inequality that preexist in women’s and men’s parental roles as workers and carers. Australia is currently mired in this very controversy and may provide lessons for the UK.
Australian child support policy was originally based on a male breadwinner model, with fathers as the main earners typically paying mothers as the primary carers. This foundation was challenged in 2003 resulting in fundamental policy changes in 2006. Men and women were now positioned as equally capable of earning and caring and equally liable for child support payments, depending on their relative incomes. Seemingly this aligned with feminist claims for gender equality. But, this ‘income shares’ approach to calculating child support liabilities, was incongruous with feminist claims for gender equity.
Feminists have stridently critiqued the 2006 reforms, arguing that the outcomes disproportionately favoured men’s interests as payers, excluding women’s worldview and experiences as recipients. Economic modelling confirmed these critiques, revealing that women, particularly low income women, were financially disadvantaged while high income men were made financially better off. In 2014, a new Inquiry into child support policy was established; again in response to men’s claims of unfair treatment. This presented mothers, fathers and policymakers with a new opportunity to outline the policy problems and their possible solutions. In this paper, we analyse the submissions to the inquiry made by men and examine how their claims for gender equality were made, particularly as they strove to redesign the rules and formulae in their attempts to find a ‘fair’ solution. We expose the contradictions between claims for gender equality with the reality of gender inequity and reveal how gender equality was deployed as a tool for the continuance of the status quo regarding inequitable gender relations post-separation.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 10 Jul 2017
EventSPA Annual Conference 2017: Social Inequalities: Research, Theory, and Policy - The University of Durham, Durham, United Kingdom
Duration: 10 Jul 201712 Aug 2017


ConferenceSPA Annual Conference 2017
Country/TerritoryUnited Kingdom


  • child support
  • fairness
  • fathers
  • Mothers
  • Australia

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