Paternity Establishment

IRP Reports

Patricia R. Brown and Steven T. Cook, 2008

IRP updated a 2003 report on the implications of voluntary paternity acknowledgment for children born in calendar years 2000 and 2001. Researchers examine the longer-term implications of voluntary paternity establishment on child support orders, child support payments, and financial security of children over a 5- to 7-year period, comparing voluntary acknowledgment with adjudicated cases. They also compare longer-term physical placement outcomes for voluntary- and involuntary-paternity children. The primary data sources for this report are KIDS and information from the three most recent CRD cohorts. These cases were merged with CARES for receipt of government assistance, and UI wage record data for parental employment and income information.

Voluntary paternity acknowledgement has been advocated as a means of promoting paternal involvement in the lives of nonmarital children, both for their children’s financial security and for other social benefits. These analyses allow us to estimate, in the longer term, the degree to which voluntary paternity acknowledgment has led to greater compliance with child support orders and greater participation in children’s lives as they age, through physical placement arrangements.

Steven T. Cook, 2006

This report examines the experiences of the American Indian population served by Wisconsin's W-2 program. While participation in W-2 among American Indians in the state is a small percentage of the total, the study examines this subgroup of the population within its unique context of demographics, socioeconomic status, and different regulatory jurisdictions (e.g., tribal courts). The report describes study findings concerning American Indians' participation in public-assistance programs, child support payments, paternity establishment, and earnings in the years after entry into the W-2 program using administrative data to examine the effects of child support pass-through and disregard policies of the CSDE on the American Indian population on W-2.

Patricia R. Brown, 2006

This report examines the effect of voluntarily acknowledged paternity on the relationship between fathers and their nonmarital children in the two to five years after the child’s birth. Previous research has shown the benefits of paternity establishment for nonmarital children, particularly in the area of financial support during their childhoods. Given this, policy makers have tried to improve the paternity establishment process, in part by establishing in-hospital and other voluntary procedures. The question addressed by this paper is whether voluntary paternity establishment is associated with differences in the father-child relationship in the early years of the child’s life.

Maria Cancian, Daniel R. Meyer, and Jen Roff, 2006

The authors consider a variety of policy approaches to the question of what to do with child support payments paid by a noncustodial parent on behalf of a family receiving public benefits. The report includes an analysis of the variation in pass-through/disregard policy over different periods in different states to evaluate the relationship between the disregard and pass-through level and such outcomes as paternity establishment and child support collections. The results show that higher child support disregards are associated with increased paternity establishment, while a pass-through without a disregard is less likely to yield the same benefits as a pass-through with a disregard.

Burt S. Barnow; Ann Nichols-Casebolt; Sara McLanahan, Renee Monson, and Patricia Brown; Esther Wattenberg, Rose Brewer, and Michael Resnick; Maureen Pirog-Good; Robert Lerman; Daniel R. Meyer (listed in order of appearance in the report), 1992

This is the second volume of a two-volume IRP Special Report containing papers presented at a conference held in Washington, D.C., in February 1992, entitled "Paternity Establishment: A Public Policy Conference. The conference was sponsored by the Institute for Research on Poverty and two divisions of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services: the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation and the Administration on Children and Families. A summary overview of the conference is in Volume I (see above). For more on the conference, see the Summer 1992 issue of Focus, IRP’s newsletter. All opinions and conclusions expressed in the papers are those of the authors alone and not of the sponsoring institutions.

Daniel R. Meyer; Marygold Melli; John Maniha; Pamela Holcomb, Kristin Seefeldt, and Freya Sonenstein; Charles F. Adams Jr., David Landsbergen, and Daniel Hecht; Freya Sonenstein, Pamela Holcomb, and Kristin Seefeldt; John Hoover, Barbara Paulin, and Harry, 1992

This is the first volume of a two-volume IRP Special Report containing papers presented at a conference held in Washington, D.C., in February 1992, entitled "Paternity Establishment: A Public Policy Conference." The conference was sponsored by the Institute for Research on Poverty and two divisions of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services: the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation and the Administration on Children and Families. The overview that begins Volume 1 was written by Daniel R. Meyer, the conference organizer. For more on the conference, see the Summer 1992 issue of Focus, IRP’s newsletter. All opinions and conclusions expressed in the papers are those of the authors alone and not of the sponsoring institutions.

IRP Discussion Papers

Maria Cancian, Daniel R. Meyer, and Jennifer Roff, 2007

Single-parent families are economically vulnerable. Some child support policies have been aimed at improving the economic well-being of these families, while others have been focused on decreasing welfare costs. Since 1996, states have been free to decide how to treat child support when it is paid on behalf of a welfare participant. States decide both how much child support income to ignore in the calculation of benefits (the disregard) and whether to send a separate child support check to the participant (the pass-through). Disregard and pass-through policies have potential impacts on economic well-being and on governmental costs, but little research has focused on their effects. This paper uses variation in child support disregard and pass-through policy across states and years to estimate whether these policies are associated with paternity establishment, child support collections, and the average dollar amount of child support collected, as reflected in state-level administrative data. We find that the disregard is positively associated with paternity establishment in all models, and is positively associated with collections in two of the four models examined. The pass-through has insignificant, or negative, effects.

Patricia R. Brown, Steven T. Cook, and Lynn Wimer, 2005

Since the mid-1990s the State of Wisconsin has operated a voluntary paternity acknowledgment process, which allows the fathers of nonmarital children born in the state to voluntarily acknowledge their paternity by signing a notarized form, instead of going through a judicial hearing. The premise behind this program is that by reducing obstacles to establishing paternity the state can encourage unmarried fathers to increase their financial and nonfinancial participation in their children's lives. This report examines the relationship between the use of paternity acknowledgment by fathers and two measures of their subsequent participation in the responsibilities of child-rearing: paying child support and having the children live with them (as shown by placement decisions).

Sara McLanahan and Irwin Garfinkel, 2000

Nonmarital childbearing is important because it is increasing and because there is concern (and some evidence) that it is damaging to children and perhaps parents as well. We refer to the unions of unwed parents as fragile families because they are similar to traditional families in many respects, but more vulnerable. Most people believe that children in fragile families would be better off if their parents lived together and their fathers were more involved in their upbringing. Indeed, public policy is now attempting to enlarge the role of unwed fathers both by cutting public cash support for single mothers and by strengthening paternity establishment and child support enforcement. Yet the scientific basis for these policies is weak. We know very little about the men who father children outside marriage, and we know even less about the nature of their relationships with their children and their children's mothers. The Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing Study (FFS) is designed to remedy this situation by following a new birth cohort of approximately 4,700 children, including 3,600 children born to unmarried parents. The new data will be representative of nonmarital births in each of 20 cities and in U.S. cities with populations over 200,000. Both mothers and fathers will be followed for at least 4 years, and in-home assessments of children's heath and development will be carried out when the child is 4 years old. The survey is designed to address the following questions: (1) What are the conditions and capabilities of new unwed parents, especially fathers? (2) What is the nature of the relationships in fragile families? (3) What factors push new unwed parents together and what factors pull them apart? In particular, how do labor markets, welfare, and child support public policies affect family formation? (4) How do children fare in fragile families and how is their well-being affected by parental capacities and relationships, and by public policies? The paper discusses what we know about each of these questions and how the FFS addresses each of them. It also presents preliminary findings based on data from Austin, Texas, and Oakland, California.

Elizabeth Phillips and Irwin Garfinkel, 1992

This study examines the changes over time in the personal incomes of nonresident fathers--whether divorced or nonmarital--in Wisconsin. Using data from the Wisconsin Court Record data base and the Wisconsin Department of Revenue, the authors examine the incomes of these fathers over the first seven years following a divorce or the initiation of a paternity suit. They also study separately the income patterns of initially poor nonresident fathers and fathers whose nonresident children receive welfare. The most important finding is that the incomes of nonmarital fathers, which are typically low in the beginning, increase dramatically over the years after paternity establishment--often to a level comparable with the incomes of divorced fathers. Based on their findings, the authors conclude that failing to establish child support obligations for nonresident fathers simply because their incomes are initially low does not appear justified.

Irwin Garfinkel and Marieka M. Klawitter, 1989

Recent federal legislation requires states to make substantial improvements in paternity establishment, enact numeric child support standards for determining child support awards, and adopt routine income withholding of all child support obligations. Data gathered for the purpose of evaluating the Wisconsin Child Support Assurance System make it possible to examine the effects of routine income withholding on the size and regularity of child support payments. Data on child support obligations and payments and the use of income withholding were collected from the court records of 6400 child support cases which entered the court system between 1980 and 1986 in the 10 pilot and 10 matched control counties. Because the control counties began to use routine income withholding in a large number of cases, the cross-county, before-after comparison understates the true effect of income withholding. On the other hand, because income withholding cannot be implemented in some cases in which payment is unlikely, and because we can control for such selectivity only imperfectly, a comparison of child support payments of those with and without income withholding orders is likely to overstate the true effect of routine withholding. The former comparison suggests routine income withholding increases child support payments by 11 percent whereas the latter suggests an increase of 30 percent. Relative to gains achieved by most program interventions, this one is quite substantial. Relative to the difference between current child support payments and estimated ability to pay child support--which implies potential gains of close to 400 percent--the gain is trivial. Attention should now be turned toward evaluating the independent and interactive effects of other reforms such as increased paternity establishment, numeric child support standards, and regular updating of awards on child support payments.