LEGISLATING LOVE: The Effect of Child Support and Welfare Policies on Father?child Contact

  • Elizabeth Peters H
  • Argys L
  • Howard H
 et al. 
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Reducing non-marital childbearing and making nonresidential fathers take greater responsibility for their children were identified as goals of numerous policy changes since the 1980s. Child-support award rates for children born to unmarried parents have been quite low historically, leading lawmakers to focus on increasing both award and payment rates for this group. Nonmarital fathers are also much less likely to have contact with their children. Although evidence suggests that policy efforts increase child support awards and receipt, the link between child support policies, child support outcomes, and father-child contact has received less attention. This paper uses data from the Survey of Income and Program Participation on children born between 1985-1997 to investigate the relationship between child-support award and receipt and the amount of contact that fathers have with their non-residential children. Since it is likely that both of these behaviors are, in part, determined by unobservable characteristics of the father, we estimate an instrumental variables Tobit model. The model is identified by our assumption that child support policy variables can impact child support awards and payments, but father-child contact cannot be directly legislated. Our results suggest that there are unintended, but desirable effects of child support establishment and collection. Policies to collect child support not only increase financial resources to families, but through their impact on payments increase visitation and contact between these children and their fathers. The estimated impact of receiving child support on contact is more than 27 days per year.

Author-supplied keywords

  • child support
  • father-child contact
  • iv tobit
  • nonmarital fathers

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  • H. Elizabeth Peters

  • Laura M. Argys

  • Heather Wynder Howard

  • J. S. Butler

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