How Unmarried Fathers Support Their Children

In addition to providing emotional support to their children, fathers play a crucial role in their children’s development through the provision of financial support. Children with supportive fathers do better across a wide range of cognitive and behavioral domains—from greater academic achievement and improved health to lower rates of delinquency and depression. For some children, the financial support of their fathers can even mean the difference between living above or below the poverty line.

Though there is little doubt that children benefit from financially supportive fathers, more than 2 in 5 children in the U.S. are born to fathers who have no legal obligation to support them. Children born to unmarried parents do not have a legal father until paternity is established, a process completed by most families in the hospital at the time of birth. In Texas, 7 in 10 fathers establish paternity by signing an in-hospital Acknowledgement of Paternity (AOP) form. Over time, roughly one-quarter of these AOP-signing families will enter the formal child support system. Little is known, however, about the three-quarters of AOP-signing families who remain outside the formal child support system, and how fathers in these families support their children if it all. A better understanding of how unmarried fathers support their children when no legal obligation is present can help shed light on whether the child support system is succeeding in its efforts to ensure children are supported and may improve targeting for resources aimed at addressing lingering gaps in support.

Drawing on survey data collected from two statewide cohorts of Texas mothers who gave birth outside of marriage, CFRP provides an overview in the How Unmarried Fathers Support Their Children brief of how AOP-signing fathers support their children financially in the years following a nonmarital birth. Not only have these fathers made the initial commitment to their children through establishing paternity, but their status as legal fathers means they have the ability to provide support through both formal and informal means.

Click here for the entire How Unmarried Fathers Support Their Children brief.


Related post: When Dads Commit, Kids Benefit

For the entire series of related briefs:

  1. Who Establishes Paternity?
  2. Why Parents Establish Paternity
  3. Fathers in the First Few Months: A Study of Unmarried Fathers and Their Children
  4. How Unmarried Fathers Support Their Children