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Do low-income noncustodial fathers “trade” earlier families for newer ones?

In the United States, it is becoming increasingly common for parents to have children with more than one partner. This type of family complexity raises issues for any social policy that relies on family structure, including social security, income taxes, and child support; in this article, we look in particular at the implications for the child support system. One important challenge is specifying the rights and responsibilities of parents who live apart from their children, and whether these change in the event that one parent has children with a new partner. We focus on noncustodial fathers who have had children with more than one mother, and determine how support they provide to children from an earlier relationship compares to support provided to their youngest child (from a newer relationship). Our study is one of the few that includes measures of the total amount of economic support (not only formal child support and informal cash support, but also informal in-kind support) that noncustodial fathers provide to their nonresident children.


  • We find no evidence for the idea of “trading” families—that noncustodial fathers stop providing financial resources to earlier families in favor of newer ones.
  • Fathers may prioritize their newer families by providing slightly more informal support to them compared to earlier families.
  • The formal child support system appears to be working as intended in terms of ensuring support to all noncustodial children.


Child Support, Children, Children General, Complicated Families & Multiple-Partner Fertility, CSPED, Family & Partnering, Multiple-Partner Fertility, Orders & Payments, Parenting


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