When Johns Hopkins University sociologist Kathryn Edin decided to research the subject of child support among lower income families, she was ready to focus primarily on single mothers who struggle to raise their children in some the country’s toughest neighborhoods. She knew the reputation of poor, absent fathers who provide next to nothing in documented financial support, men who are commonly labeled “deadbeat dads.” Then, she met one. Then, another. Before long, she was putting together a project that followed more than 360 fathers of various races, looking at how they tried to provide for their children despite their own dire circumstances. Her findings were published earlier this summer in the Journal of Marriage and Family.
In the U.S., about one in four children are due some level of child support, but, on average, only about 60 percent get the full owed amount. A previous study found that less than one third of fathers at or below the poverty line pay formal support through the court system, a finding which was reaffirmed by Edin’s research. Of her subjects, 23 percent made formal payments through the child support system, averaging about $38 per month.
Nearly half, however, including many who paid no formal support whatsoever, offered “in-kind” support in the form of items and goods, such as diapers, formula, and shoes. The average amount per child, Edin’s team found, was about $63 per month, which, for many low-income men, represents a significant amount of money. For dads who also spent at least 10 hours per month with their children, the average monthly “in-kind” contribution jumped to nearly $84.
Time for a Change?
The biggest takeaway from the project, Edin concluded, is that there are a large number of fathers doing what they can to provide for their children amidst difficult financial situations. The efforts, though, go undocumented and, therefore, legally unnoticed. She believes that court systems need to implement a way to track and account for in-kind contributions, as they are real and beneficial, and while they cannot replace cash for things like rent assistance, they do help the child. She also believes that providing legal recognition for informal support will encourage more men to step up and provide even more for their children.
If you are supposed to be paying child support and are having trouble meeting your obligations, contact an experienced Kane County family law attorney. We will review your case and help you understand your eligibility for various options under the law, including a possible order modification. Call 630-377-7770 today to schedule your free initial consultation.