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This Article examines the government policy of seeking reimbursement of welfare costs through child support enforcement. Under our welfare program, Temporary Aid to Needy Families (TANF), custodial parents applying for benefits are required to establish child support obligations against the absent parents and to assign the resulting child support payments to the government. As a result, half of the $105 billion in national child support debt is owed to the government rather than to children. The government's fiscal interests are in direct conflict with the best interests of the children - the controlling legal standard in child support matters. The conflict results in legal confusion, and the welfare cost recovery efforts harm children, families and society. Children in welfare families struggling to become self-sufficient lose out as their support payments are redirected to the government. Fragile relationships between mothers, fathers and children are often broken. The fiscal benefit to the government is minimal, at best. And the social fabric is torn, as significant numbers of welfare fathers retreat from the workforce and their families. This Article thoroughly examines the conflict and resulting legal and policy questions. The Article explores the history of the competing interests and purposes of child support in America, describes the framework and impact of the current government welfare cost recovery system, addresses the long ignored and unresolved legal questions that result from the conflicting missions, and concludes with suggestions for reform including the Article's primary conclusion that welfare cost recovery is a failed effort - and should therefore end.



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