NEW YORK (MainStreet) — Many low-income fathers not paying formal child support may not have abandoned the care of their children, after all, despite what government statistics may indicate.
According to a Johns Hopkins-led study of 367 lower-income, non-custodial fathers in Philadelphia, Austin, and Charleston, almost half (46%) gave in-kind support to their kids, buying them things they need, such as food, clothing, and baby products, as a way to bond with their kids and to make sure their contributions are spent on their children.
The researchers asked fathers about the ways in which they support their children—cash payments to the courts, informal cash payments, and in-kind goods provided to the child—and why they chose a particular method. They found that the dads most wanted to secure a relationship with their children.
“Fathers believed that the most important thing they could do for their children was to deploy their scarce financial resources in ways that [directly] demonstrated to their children that they care,” says Jennifer Kane, a postdoctoral scholar at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and one of the study's researchers.
In-kind child support also works for parents who could otherwise afford to write a check.
“In-kind child support can be a great idea for parents who get along well and can set aside their differences to focus on the needs of their children,” says Michael Boulette, a divorce attorney at Lindquist & Vennum and adjunct professor of family law at the University of St. Thomas School of Law, both in Minneapolis. “At their best, these awards avoid fights over who pays for what by allowing each parent to provide for a specific portion of the child's needs."
“Over the years, I have had a number of cases in which parents have worked out support arrangements outside of the court system,” says Susan E. Murray, a divorce attorney in Media, Pa. “This will generally work only if the parents have a level of trust in each other that they both want what is best for the children. Avoiding litigation can reduce the potential for animosity between the parents, which can become evident to the children.”
Child support, fundamentally, is for providing for the child’s basic needs, but there can be problems if it appears funds are being misallocated and not used specifically for the children.