Child Support Law in California and Sweden : a Comparison Across Welfare State Models

Abstract: Ensuring just distribution of and adequate funding for children whose parents do not live together is a global legal challenge. It affects many families as well as every legal jurisdiction’s welfare state and family law.This comparative study describes child support legal solutions in two jurisdictions, California (a liberal welfare state) and Sweden (a social democratic one). Analyzed are the similarities and differences in these states’ legal responses to the inequalities child support law functions to alleviate, and the implications for child support theory and practice in these and other jurisdictions.Micro-comparative chapters demonstrate how the jurisdictions’ regulations differ by analyzing children’s rights and needs and parents’ duties and abilities to pay, each as defined in the child support law. Also compared are procedural laws enforcing child support rights and duties in private and public law cases.Macro-comparative chapters draw a comparative portrait of two welfare state ideological and family law child support approaches, both aiming to reduce inequalities, in terms of how their child support laws and welfare states have defined and addressed the best interests of children and society at large.Most of the differences in the laws and their interpretations are found to reflect the welfare state ideals of the two societies including their ideal models of the family and of individuals’ relationships to the state. Ideals for judicial and negotiated family law conflict resolution also play a significant role.Analyses of the differences include comparison of the jurisdictions’ (1) histories, (2) legal principles and traditions, (3) gender equality ideals and realities and (4) income equality ideals and realities, all as related to legal child support rights and duties.The study provides a better understanding of some of the weaknesses within these regulations, and also of the child support system design choices they represent. Weaknesses in child support laws arise not just from confusions over how to prioritize conflicting interests directly regulated by the legal rules, but also how to prioritize those interests given conflicting ideals of the state and the family, both between and within these societies. Despite the different ideals influencing both systems’ solutions, elements of each jurisdiction’s experience have potential to inform the other’s further development.