What You Need To Know About “Deadbeat Dads”

Do “deadbeat dads” actually pay more than we realize?


Say the words “deadbeat dad” and very few people have to ask you to clarify. Most people have heard of at least one (usually a great many) dads who abandon their children to the care of a harried single mother who can hardly keep up. Skipping out on child support payments? Of course. Hardly having any contact with their children? Absolutely. After all, deadbeat dads are more common in society these days than fungus in a forest. Right? Actually,…that’s wrong.


According to a study entitledHow Much In-Kind Support Do Low-Income Nonresident Fathers Provide? A Mixed-Method Analysis” published in the Journal of Marriage and Family, the “deadbeat dad” is less of a reality than many people assume.


Kathryn Edin, Timothy J. Nelson, and Jennifer B. Kane, are the coauthors of the study. In their research they have discovered that most child support research up until now has focused on what is termed either informal or formal support. This refers to monetary payments made by non-custodial fathers to the mothers of their children. Payments made through the courts are referred to as “formal” support, whereas “informal” support refers to money given directly to the mother.


However, none of the research includes any information about that oft-forgotten third option, namely “in-kind” support. In-kind support refers to non-cash goods, and can be anything from clothing, diapers, toys, food, or even school supplies, to name but a few. Edin, Nelson and Kane spent hundreds of hours interviewing almost 400 non-custodial fathers in an effort to determine how much in-kind support mothers received on average. The results may surprise you.


According to the study, “in-kind” support constitutes almost a full quarter of the total support received by custodial mothers in support of their children. Even the fathers labeled “deadbeat” because they provide little or no monetary support for their children, averaged about $60 dollars in non-cash goods per month.


The term “deadbeat dad” is often incorrectly applied to fathers who do much more than we realize.


In instances where the children are younger, the study showed, or the father in question has at least a high school education and is not struggling with substance abuse, the in-kind support is usually even greater in addition to any monetary support received. Conversely, the study revealed that a greater percentage of the support for children whose non-custodial fathers have no fixed income, or are African American, comes in the form of “in-kind” support.


Another interesting point that the study revealed was the motivation behind the in-kind support provided by non-custodial fathers. While many may expect that moral obligation or guilt was an overriding factor in their choice to provide their children with non-cash goods, it turns out that the real reason is far more altruistic. Relationship, it seems, is the real reason.


Contrary to what many people believe about non-custodial fathers and their roles in the lives of their children, most fathers actually do care about their children and want to be involved in their lives. Which, for fathers everywhere, is something they’ve probably always known. But as for the rest of us, it took a couple of sociologists at John Hopkins and a postdoctoral scholar to show us the truth.


If you have questions about child support, or need help determining custody in your upcoming divorce, please contact us at 517 886 1000. The skilled family law attorneys at The Kronzek Firm have decades of experience representing the parents of mid-Michigan, and ensuring that children are properly provided for in the wake of divorce. We are here to help you.


If you want to calculate an estimate of your child support payments, the Michigan government has provided a free Child Support Calculator, which you can use as a guideline for determining what your child support payments might amount to. If you would like to know exactly, we suggest that you consult with an experienced family law attorney.