Deadbeat or Deadbroke: Redefining Child Support for Poor Fathers
Seton Hall Legal Studies Research Paper No. 2010-31
33 Pages Posted: 24 Mar 2011 Last revised: 27 May 2015
Date Written: January 1, 2006
This Essay builds on prior work examining the role the law plays in fostering or discouraging nurturing relationships between fathers and children. In Beyond Economic Fatherhood: Encouraging Divorced Fathers to Parent, 153 U. Pa. L. Rev. 921 (2005), I used social norms theory to explore how the law has perpetuated the norm of fathers as mere economic providers, thereby contributing to paternal disengagement after divorce. That article focused primarily on divorced, middle class fathers. In this Essay, I examine the effect of child support policies on poor, non-marital fathers’ relationships with their children. Contrary to popular perception, many of these fathers have more contact with their children and are more involved in their upbringing than middle-class divorced fathers. The law, however, only recognizes formal child support payments which poor fathers are unlikely to make. I argue that this failure to consider the in-kind and non-financial contributions poor fathers make to their children discourages paternal involvement and propose that these contributions be credited against formal child support obligations.
Keywords: deadbeat, child support, fathers, children, non-marital fathers, poor
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