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Child Support: Responsible Fatherhood and the Quid Pro Quo

  • Maria Cancian, Daniel R. Meyer, and Eunhee Han
  • June 2010
  • DP1373-10

This article will appear in Smeeding, Timothy, Irwin Garfinkel, and Ronald Mincy, eds. “Young Disadvantaged Men: Fathers, Families, Poverty, and Policy,” The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science 635 (May 2011).

Over time, public policy changes have strengthened the private child support system while reducing access to public supportùwelfare. Especially given the very limited availability of public support, nonresident fathers’ economic contributions through child support can play an important role in helping children avoid poverty. In this paper we review evidence on nonresident fathers’ ability to pay support, provide an overview of the way child support policies affect disadvantaged fathers, and propose new directions for child support policy. We argue that the current work-focused safety net, which aims to require and help enable disadvantaged mothers to work, creates a context in which government should similarly require and help enable all fathers, even those who are disadvantaged, to work and pay child support. However, reforms are needed to make this a realistic expectation, given many fathers’ limited employment options and complex families.


Child Poverty, Child Support, Child Support Policy Research, Children, Complicated Families & Multiple-Partner Fertility, Employment, Family & Partnering, Low-Wage Work, Multiple-Partner Fertility, Unemployment/Nonemployment


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