Background and Purpose: The purpose of this study is to understand the impact the formal child support orders have on the father-child relationship for Black fathers. After decades of research pointing to the ineffectiveness and even harmful practices of federal and state child support enforcement practices, many states continue to utilize a child support system that criminalizes poverty and that disproportionately effects low-income Black men. Noncustodial parents with child support orders often face impossible monthly payments and punitive consequences for not paying.do not pay child support for reasons primarily financial in nature and this ongoing conflict between the father and the court system negatively impacts the father-child relationship.
Methods: This study analyzed existing longitudinal data from The Fragile Families & Child Wellbeing Study conducted between 1998 and 2000 in large U.S cities. Data from Waves 1,2, and 3, of the study were used. Fathers who were interviewed at baseline were selected (N=3,755). The father-child relationship was measured by combining variables indicating the frequency of the fathers’ contact with the child- including and whether the father brought items for the child. The higher the total score the more involved the father was and the stronger the relationship. Frequency of contact from Wave 2, and 3 was used. A binary logistical regression and OLS regression analysis was conducted on each individual Wave to estimate whether the father-child relationship was effected by having an initial formal child support order and whether race influenced the likelihood of having a formal child support order.
Results: Formal child support obligations had a statistically significant impact on the frequency of a father’s involvement at Wave 2 and Wave 3 of the study (Coef.= -.5569402 P-value=0.000). For each person paying child support through a formal obligation there was a decrease in frequency of a father’s involvement with their child. Additionally, there was a statistically significant difference in the rate at which Black fathers had a formal child support obligation compared to White fathers (Coef.=.6645945 P-value=0.000). Yet Black fathers are still more likely to have higher involvement in their child’s life (Coef.=1.095862 P-value=0.000) even when accounting for formal child support (Coef.=4351466 P-value= 0.004).
Implications: Formal child support orders seem to have a negative effect on the father-child relationship. Furthermore, Black fathers are more likely than White fathers to have a formal child support order. These results align with the limited literature about the negative experiences of Black fathers in Domestic Relations Court which is where formal child support orders are entered as well as the literature that has inconclusively found that formal child support orders and punitive enforcement practices do not increase child support payments or improve the father-child relationship. Further research is necessary to identify the exact reason for Black fathers being more likely to have formal child support orders as well as why formal child support orders have a negative effect on father involve