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.