Abstract: Beyond Formal Child Support: The Informal Support of Nonresident Fathers (Society for Social Work and Research 14th Annual Conference: Social Work Research: A WORLD OF POSSIBILITIES)

12954 Beyond Formal Child Support: The Informal Support of Nonresident Fathers

Sunday, January 17, 2010: 10:45 AM
Pacific Concourse G (Hyatt Regency)
* noted as presenting author
Chien-Chung Huang , Rutgers University, Associate Professor, New Brunswick, NJ
Background and Purpose: The literature on father involvement has often identified limited financial and nonfinancial involvement by nonresident fathers as primary reasons for these negative outcomes. However, the majority of studies on the involvement of nonresident fathers with their children have emphasized formal child support payments. Several qualitative studies have shown that some nonresident fathers, particularly ones with low incomes, prefer to use informal contributions, such as informal child support payments, in-kind support, and visitation rather than paying formal child support to support their children. Therefore, looking at just formal child support payments may underestimate the involvement of nonresident fathers with their children. Previous child support studies that have drawn conclusions on formal child support payments without examining informal child support payments, visitation, and/or in-kind support may not have accurately portrayed the involvement of nonresident fathers with their children.

Methods: Using nationally representative data from the 19942006 waves of the Current Population Survey, Child Support Supplement, this paper examines level and trend of involvement, including formal and informal child support payments, visitation, and in-kind support over time. Regression analyses were performed with the involvement of nonresident fathers as the dependent variable and the characteristics of parents as the independent variables.

Results: The results indicate that, on average over all survey years, only 39% of mothers received formal child support payments from nonresident fathers, 7% received informal child support payments, 64% reported that fathers visited their children, and 58% reported that fathers provided in-kind support. About 32% of mothers reported that nonresident fathers provided both formal child support and some other kind of involvement; 7% received only formal child support; 37% received only informal child support, visitation, or in-kind support; and about 24% experienced no father involvement. Regression results reveal that the level of involvement varied by socioeconomic subgroups and time periods. Some of the present findings are consistent with the literature that has found that disadvantaged fathers prefer to make informal contributions rather than formal child support payments to support their children. Specifically, mothers who were young, Black, never married, and whose characteristics predicted a low income for the father were all more likely than their respective counterparts to report receiving informal support rather than formal child support payments. However, the overall involvement of nonresident fathers was significantly lower for socioeconomically disadvantaged than for advantaged mothers, even after considering informal support.

Conclusions and Implications: In short, it is apparent that many nonresident fathers are involved with their children through informal support in addition to or rather than formal child support payments. Many of these fathers visited and provided informal child support payments and in-kind support to their children. All types of involvement from nonresident fathers have important meaning for children and effects on their well-being. Using formal child support payments as a sole indicator of father involvement substantially underestimates the involvement of nonresident fathers, particularly for parents with lower socioeconomic characteristics. Future policy and research in this area should take informal support into consideration.