Roundtable: What Should We Expect of Nonresident Fathers?
(Family and Child Policy)

Thursday, November 8, 2018: 10:15 AM-11:45 AM
Wilson A - Mezz Level (Marriott Wardman Park)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Moderators:  Lauren Antelo, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
Speakers:  Maria Cancian, University of Wisconsin, Madison, Robert Doar, American Enterprise Institute, Kathryn Edin, Princeton University and Joseph T. Jones, Center for Urban Families

At a time when two in five children are born to unmarried parents, and many married parents divorce, most American children will spend at least part of their childhood living apart from a parent, most often their father. There are important disagreements about the best scope and focus of government intervention, though analysts generally agree that parents’ efforts to provide for the financial and emotional wellbeing of their children are profoundly shaped by public policy. In this context, this panel brings together a broad range of perspectives and expertise to address the critical issue: what we should expect of nonresident fathers, and how can policy encourage and enable fathers to meet those expectations?


Current policy prioritizes economic support over other engagement. It has been argued that the child support enforcement system works well for families in which the nonresident father has stable formal employment—which gives him the means to pay, and generally results in automatic withholding of the child support due. Lower-income fathers are more likely to encounter challenges in the child support system-- because of their income and employment status, and also because they are more likely to have children outside of marriage and with multiple partners, and because a higher proportion of their (low) income is needed to provide basic support. Less than 30% of resident parents below poverty received any child support and only 17% received all the child support due to them in 2015. 


The response to these challenges has been diverse, and in in some cases, contradictory. There have been calls to refocus the child support enforcement system on engaging nonresident fathers, crediting informal support they may provide outside the formal system, and prioritizing their involvement with their children. In some cases these critics of the current system have argued that the formal system fails to account for fathers’ actual contributions, and that unrealistic expectations embedded in the formal enforcement system can harm noncustodial parents, create additional barriers for noncustodial parents to be involved with their children and may even yield less support to vulnerable families than alternatives. In contrast, others point to the economic vulnerability of children living apart from their fathers, and the challenges facing low income custodial mothers if they must provide both care and economic support for their children without a reliable contribution from the children’s fathers. For some, the declining performance of the formal child support system is a sign that enforcement must be strengthened—perhaps by broadening requirements that custodial parents cooperate with child support enforcement as a condition for receiving public benefits, or conditioning the access of noncustodial parents to benefits on their payment of support. For others, the challenges facing custodial and noncustodial parents suggest the need for broader public support (e.g. child support assurance).


The panel will address these issues and their implications for policy, including efforts to implement the 2016 Flexibility, Efficiency, and Modernization in Child Support Enforcement Programs final rule in the context shifting priorities of the current Federal administration.

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