Methods: Using nationally representative data from the 1994–2006 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.