Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

In-Hospital Paternity Establishment and Father Involvement in Fragile Families

Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

In-Hospital Paternity Establishment and Father Involvement in Fragile Families

Article excerpt

This article assesses the effectiveness of inhospital paternity establishment, a federal requirement since 1993. We avoid biases in previous studies by using a national sample of nonmarital births (N = 3,254), by including detailed controls for characteristics of unwed mothers and previously unavailable controls for characteristics of fathers, and by estimating reduced form models of the effects of strong paternity establishment regimes. We find that paternity establishment rates are now quite high-69%-and that 6 of 7 paternities are established in the hospital. Even after controlling for previously unavailable characteristics, establishing paternity (in and outside the hospital) is significantly and positively associated with formal and informal child support payments and father-child visitation. These results hold up in the reduced form models.

Key Words: child support, father involvement, fragile families, paternity establishment, unwed parents.

Over the past 30 years, paternity establishment has become an important component of the child support enforcement program for several reasons. Unwed births now constitute more than a third of annual births and more than half of child support and welfare caseloads (U.S. House of Representatives, Committee on Ways and Means, 2000). The poverty rate of female-headed families with children is five times the rate for married-couple families with children (U.S. Census Bureau, n.d.). Nonmarital children are much less likely to have child support orders, in part, because paternity determination is a prerequisite (Beller & Graham, 1993). Because young unwed fathers experience substantial growth in earnings within 5 years after the birth of their child, their capacity to contribute to the financial needs of children grows rapidly (Knock, 1998; Lerman, 1993; Meyer, 1992; Phillips & Garfinkel, 1993).

Prior assessments of the effectiveness of paternity establishment policies have taken advantage of the process of evolution of these policies over the past decade or more. Innovative ideas emerging from policy or demonstration research in a few states have been incorporated into federal mandates, which are adopted more or less rapidly by state legislatures. The varying lags in the time in which states adopt federal mandates provide a natural experiment with which to assess policy effectiveness (Miller & Garfinkel, 1999). Voluntary in-hospital paternity acknowledgment, as described below, is the most recent and arguably most important tool for establishing paternity.

This article assesses the effectiveness of inhospital paternity establishment, using data from the Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing Study to describe the proportion of nonmarital births, between 1998 and 2000, in which the father voluntarily established paternity at birth in the hospital. It also documents the proportion of total paternities established in the hospital by the child's first year of life. We describe who establishes paternity, in the hospital and in other settings. We then examine the effect of inhospital paternity establishment on the probability of the child's mother receiving any child support from the father (formal or informal) and the probability of visits by nonresident fathers. The last outcome (visitation) is a frequently alleged benefit of paternity establishment, which has rarely been tested previously (Argys & Peters, 2001; Pearson & Thoennes, 1996).

Evolution of Paternity Establishment Policies

Aiming to stem the growth of the welfare rolls and recoup the cost of public benefits, Congress passed a series of amendments to the Social Security Act, including provisions designed to increase paternity establishment for children born to unwed parents. The first, in 1967, required states to provide incentives to recipients to establish paternity for children receiving Aid to Families with Dependent Children. With the 1975 amendments, through Title IV-D, Congress established the Federal Office of Child Support Enforcement and required states to establish similar offices, which were responsible for establishing paternity for nonmarital births, securing child support obligations, and enforcing these obligations. …

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