Fathers under Fire: The Revolution in Child Support Enforcement in the USA (This CASEpaper is a summary of the book by the same title and authors, published by the Russel Sage Foundation, 1998)
In the shadow of rising divorce and non-marital birth rates, nearly two-thirds of all American children today will live apart from at least one of their parents, usually the father. Clearly this astonishing proportion of non-resident fathers has serious implications for the economic, employment, and educational status of mothers and the development and wellbeing of children. But according to the authors of Fathers Under Fire, a more comprehensive perspective on non-resident fathers - understanding their capacities and circumstances, acknowledging their responses to policy changes, and recognising their needs -- is essential in order to derive value from the past twenty years of policy change, and to design more effective policies for the future. Fathers Under Fire is intended as a first step toward public policy that reflects the interests of children, families, and society as a whole - by including the diverse perspectives and potential of non-resident fathers. The book traces the recent evolution of child support policy which is shifting the burden of supporting children in single parent families from the public and mothers to non-resident fathers. Fathers Under Fire argues that, as yet, the shift has neither improved the standard of living for mothers and children, nor helped the fathers to be able to meet their obligations. The authors explore the various 'side effects' of rigorous enforcement, especially for low-income fathers, finding that 1) a 'proportional standard' of support determination would improve compliance without economically crippling those fathers who are already hovering in or near poverty; 2) child support enforcement does seem to reduce the likelihood of both remarriage and subsequent out-of-wedlock births for low-income non-resident fathers; 3) payment of support does tend to coincide (for better and worse) with seeing the children more often, and having more influence in child-rearing decisions.
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