Making the father pay : the Child Support Act, 1991, from an historical perspective.
In recent years renewed efforts have been made to enforce the edict of family
responsibility, culminating in the enactment of the Child Support Act, 1991.
Under this legislation, the duty of absent fathers to provide for their former
families has been reinforced which great rigour. The primary aim of this study is
to see if the outcomes of this Act could have been predicted through an historical
analysis of past precedent.
The period from 1900-1940 is investigated for comparison with the present day.
Statutory measures which attempted to ensure that fathers complied with court
orders were also enacted in these years. Moreover, they were passed in a
political, economic and moral climate not dissimilar to the 1980s and 1990s.
Through an examination of archival sources, this study looks at the reasons why
governments then were anxious to find ways of preventing lone mother families
from becoming a burden on central or local finances - and why they believed
their support should not be the responsibility of the community. It then explores
the outcome of these measures in terms of their success, or otherwise, from an
administrative and financial perspective. Following a similar examination of the
Child Support Act, a comparative analysis of efforts to reinforce the financial
duty of absent fathers in both the early and late twentieth century is undertaken.
From these findings it is concluded that important lessons from the past have
been ignored at our peril.