Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Children with Nonresident Parents: Living Arrangements, Visitation, and Child Support

Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Children with Nonresident Parents: Living Arrangements, Visitation, and Child Support

Article excerpt

One third of all children in the United States have a nonresident parent. On the basis of 13,085 children with a nonresident parent drawn from the 1997 National Survey of America's Families, this study examines nonresident mothers' and fathers' involvement (visitation and child support) with children who reside in different household types: single-parent families, married and cohabiting stepfamilies, and families headed by grandparents, other relatives, or nonrelatives. The relationship between children's living arrangements and nonresident parent involvement is complex and depends on both the gender of the nonresident parent and the type of involvement. Because nonresident parent involvement is low regardless of household type, policies and programs designed to increase involvement should include children in a variety of family forms.

Key Words: child support, family structure, gender, nonresident, parenting, visitation.

A consequence of increased divorce and nonmarital childbearing in the past several decades is dramatic growth in the proportion of children living apart from a biological parent. The proportion of White children living with two parents declined from 90% in 1 970 to 74% in 1998, and minority children, who are less likely to live with two parents to begin with, experienced similar declines (Teachman, Tedrow, & Crowder, 2000). The implication of these trends is that one third of all children in the United States, or roughly 25 million children, have a nonresident parent (U.S. Census Bureau, 2006). Because high rates of poverty and an elevated risk of social and academic problems are associated with single-mother families and stepfamilies, nonresident father involvement has been at the forefront of public policy in recent years (Coleman, Ganong, & Fine, 2000; Dalaker & Proctor, 2000; McLanahan, 1997). Despite the increased attention, only about half of children with a nonresident father receive any child support or see their fathers more than a few times a year (Graham & Beller, 2002).

Nonresident parenthood should no longer be thought of only in terms of fathers. The living arrangements of children with nonresident parents are becoming increasingly diverse (Casper & Bryson, 1 998). More than one fourth (28%) of children living apart from a biological parent live apart from a biological mother or both biological parents (U.S. Census Bureau, 2006). Similar to children with nonresident fathers, children with nonresident mothers or two nonresident parents have below-average levels of social and emotional well-being and above-average rates of poverty (Casper & Bryson, 1998; Downey, Ainsworth-Darnell, & Dufur, 1998; Meyer & Garasky, 1993).

Children with nonresident mothers are particularly likely to live in households that do not include a resident parent. Previous studies have found that roughly half of children with a nonresident mother lived with a grandparent or other relative (and no parent) compared to only 10% of children with a nonresident father (Sousa & Sorensen, 2006; Stewart, 1999b). Yet most studies of nonresident parent involvement have been limited to children with a resident parent and examine, for example, the effects of a stepparent (Buchanan, Maccoby, & Dornbusch, 1996). Despite lower child well-being and higher rates of poverty (King, Mitchell, & Hawkins, 2010; Sun, 2003), little is known about nonresident parent involvement for children with two nonresident parents who live with grandparents, relatives, or nonrelatives.

Although studies of nonresident parent involvement are increasingly capturing greater complexity in the living arrangements of children (Harris & Ryan, 2004; King et al., 2010; Sousa & Sorensen, 2006; Sun, 2003), gaps in our understanding remain. For example, studies have examined visitation but not child support (Harris & Ryan, 2004; King et al., 2010), the involvement of nonresident fathers but not nonresident mothers (Harris & Ryan, 2004), or differences in children's well-being but not involvement (Sun, 2003). …

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