Aviva Nusbaum


Indigent single parents who turn to welfare for financial support must cooperate with their state’s child support enforcement requirements before receiving some or all of their benefits. Single parents are required to provide information about the absent parent because states use the information to pursue the absent parent for child support. While child support helps reduce poverty and increase parental emotional support for children, it can also be very dangerous for some single mothers. The good cause exception exempts parents from child support enforcement when it would be contrary to the “best interests of the child.” Mothers and children who would be physically endangered by contact with the absent father can therefore demonstrate good cause by proving dangerous circumstances, such as those where the child was conceived through rape. But evidentiary standards requiring official or third–party corroboration to satisfy good cause can impose a heavy burden on women who gave birth to a child conceived during rape. Rape is overwhelmingly unreported, and women often hide their rape from friends and family for fear of social stigma. This makes the third–party corroboration requirement more burdensome for rape victims.

Evidentiary standards to satisfy good cause vary by state. All states accept official documentation, often in the form of records from birth certificates and documentation from medical professionals or law enforcement. The majority of states provide that sworn statements of third parties with knowledge of the circumstances leading to good cause may substantiate the claim. A minority of states, however, articulate polarized approaches, outlining either a more achievable “permissive” approach, or requiring more demanding “restrictive” standards. The minority permissive approach allows for both third–party statements and applicant corroboration, while the minority restrictive approach will not accept anything other than official documentation. This Note argues that states must craft evidentiary requirements that are compatible with victim behavior following sexual assault to properly protect rape victims seeking welfare benefits from the danger of continued contact with their rapist through child support enforcement. The majority and minority restrictive approaches are too limited, as they require the rape victim to have reported or disclosed her rape in order to receive benefits, despite the realities of victim behavior.

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