A quick look at the history of how child support laws were enforced clearly illustrates the obvious short-comings of that system.
Simply put, judges considered basically two factors:
1) The parent's ability to pay.
2) What the child would need.
It goes without saying, child custody and support, especially as a part of divorce settlements, are emotionally-charged situations. With the system as it existed, the parties were reluctant to come to amicable settlements or agreements prior to entering the court rooms for final dissolutions.
Thus, a lot of the details were left in the hands of the judges which led to great discrepancies and inconsistencies. There was also the inherent belief with most that it was almost always best for the children to remain with their mothers as custodial parents.
The result was there were many who left the court rooms with a great deal of hurt and resentment. Combined with support orders, visitation agreements and maybe the lack of cooperation, and perhaps a general lack of respect for the Law, many failed to comply.
When child support was not paid, many families were forced to become part of what was then referred to as the Federal Government's Aid to Families with Dependent Children. As the federal expenses increased, the Aid For Dependent Children (AFDC) was established. This program obligated states to follow guidelines provided by the Secretary of Health and Human Services to step-up their enforcement practices.
In 1974, the FSA (Family Support Act) was enacted by the US Congress requiring states to establish agencies tasked to enforce child support orders. Compliance was to be determined by the Office of Child Support Enforcement.
Ten years later, the CSEA (Child Support Enforcement Amendment) was Congress' way to standardize the way child support would be calculated. These guidelines were first presented to those in family law as a means of determining more fair and equitable child support orders.
In 1988 Congress Acted Once Again
The PRWORA (Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act) set standards for the states to follow. The new Federal law required the states to set criteria for exceptions to those standards or when modifying custody or support payments.
The TANF (Temporary Assistance to Needy Families) program came to replace AFDC in 1996. The Federal Government made grants to the states and gave more enforcement power to follow up on delinquent child support payments.
They also set it up for paternity to be established through the state courts, so marital status became irreverent as to the welfare of the child. Enforcement measures could now include the placement of liens on professional licensing if one were found to be delinquent on support payments. It was also required that states worked together to follow-up with child support orders and created registries for referral.
All of these steps were to create a more consistent method for determining payments based on the incomes of both parents and to provide health care for the children. Among other steps, there was also the intent to involve both parents more in interactions with the children and their upbringing.
It can not be suggested strongly enough to always seek professional legal counsel if one is facing either divorce or a paternity suit. These are events that will have a long-lasting effect on you and the children involved.