Several million American children and their mothers will benefit from a new child-support law just signed by President Reagan after unanimous approval by both houses of Congress.
The problem this measure is designed to correct is substantial. Proponents of the measure estimate that one-fourth of the women supposed to get child-support payments actually receive none, and another fourth receive less than half the amount set by courts. Fathers have often evaded their responsibilities by moving to another state, and no funds could be collected since no national law applied, only a patchwork of state-by-state edicts.
The new comprehensive measure has the necessary teeth to provide, for the first time, national enforcement of judicial decisions which assess child-support payments from parents, primarily fathers. Inasmuch as the measure applies to all 50 states, fathers can no longer escape payment by moving across state lines.
Further, if a father is more than a month behind in court-ordered payments, the courts can order his employer to withhold child-support money from his paycheck. Thus the vehicle now exists for obtaining such funds before they can be spent on self-indulgent purposes, as now is too often the case.
This is a powerful tool available to aid mothers in obtaining child-support funding to which they are entitled. Fairness toward these mothers and children is imperative.
At the same time it also is important to keep in thought that, in the application of the new measure, fairness ought to be shown toward any fathers who have fallen behind in payments for reasons beyond their control, such as loss of employment.
An anomaly exists in all of this. Since before the beginning of the presidency of Ronald Reagan four years ago, many Americans have been deeply concerned about government intrusion into their everyday lives. In 1980 the Republican presidential ticket campaigned, in part, on the theme of getting the government off the backs of the American people.
Once in office, President Reagan continued the deregulation of industries which was begun during the administration of President Carter.
Yet the child-support law constitutes an instance in which government action, some might call it intrusion, has now been widely deemed necessary to cope with a pressing national requirement of long standing. The measure just signed has had strong support from both liberals and conservatives, and was high on the agenda of women's groups.
It is a reminder that much government regulation, even that which ultimately may be much criticized, begins as an effort to meet a need.