Academic journal article Journal of Sociology & Social Welfare

Child Support Payment and Child Visitation: Perspectives from Nonresident Fathers and Resident Mothers

Academic journal article Journal of Sociology & Social Welfare

Child Support Payment and Child Visitation: Perspectives from Nonresident Fathers and Resident Mothers

Article excerpt

The purpose of this qualitative study was to examine the child support and visitation perspectives of nonresidential fathers and custodial mothers. The focus of the study was to present definitions of child support from both noncustodial fathers and custodial mothers, the barriers they experience that prevent child support and visitation, and suggestions the parents have for improvements in the child support system. The data suggest that although nonresidential fathers and custodial mothers have similar definitions of what characteristics define child support, they have vastly different views of what barriers prevent child support and visitation. Interparental hostility appeared to shape their perspectives about child support and visitation. Recommendations targeting the negative perceptions parents have of one another are presented.

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The terms noncustodial father or nonresident father refer to men who do not live with their children due to separation from the mother, divorce or because the child was born out of wedlock (Fox & Blanton, 1995). Almost 30% of all children are currently being raised in single-parent homes and have a nonresident parent (U.S. Census Bureau, 1999). The separation of parents from their children has received attention from policy makers in recent years, partly due to its impact on children. Children raised in single-parent homes are more likely to experience poverty than those raised in two parent households (Bianchi, 1995; Bowen, Desimone, & McKay, 1995). Increased emphasis on child support enforcement has been viewed as a means of decreasing poverty rates for single-parent families and thereby lessening the negative effects of single-parenthood (Wolk, 1999). Thus, the reasons noncustodial parents pay child support and visit their children are important to understand. The predominant themes in the research literature for nonpayment of child support are insufficient income (Sorenson, 1997) and a poor relationship with the child's mother (Seltzer & Brandreth, 1994).

One of the primary reasons for the nonpayment of child support is the income level of the noncustodial parent. Studies focused on inner-city nonresident fathers have found that they have a limited ability to pay child support (Furstenburg, 1995; Kim & Mizell, 1997; Stier & Tienda, 1993). Young nonresident fathers have considerably lower earnings and higher poverty rates than other men in their age group (Lerman & Ooms, 1993; Pirog-Good & Good, 1995). Research conducted by Garfinkel and Oellerich (1989) found that never-married noncustodial fathers earn income that is less than half of divorced fathers.

In addition to low income levels, inconsistent child support has also been tied to the poor relationship between separated parents (Demo & Ganong, 1994). The nature of the relationship between the nonresident father and the custodial mother has been identified as the one factor that consistently hinders the relationship between the nonresident and his children (Fox & Blanton, 1995; Aldous, 1996). Since resident mothers act as gatekeepers who control access to their children, they have the power to dictate the child's relationship with the father (Fox & Blanton, 1995; Stier & Tienda, 1993). Unfortunately, the restricted access reduces the incentives for working fathers to invest in their children (Stier & Tienda, 1993).

Also to be considered is the remarriage of either parent. Since remarriage increases the complexity and strains of balancing old and new family relationships, parental involvement may decrease after the new union (Seltzer & Bianchi, 1988). The limited studies available concerning the attitudes of fathers toward parenting suggest that these attitudes depend on their current family arrangements, relationships with their former spouses or partners and children, social background and involvement, including visitation, with nonresident children (Seltzer & Brandreth, 1994). …

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