It's not just about the money: Non-resident father's perceptions of paying child support

28 Jul 2008

Most research into child support is based on the experiences of residential mothers and children. The little we know about post-separation fathering often comes from mothers reports. This is problematic as many child support reforms focus on changing the behaviour of non-resident parents (usually fathers) without a complete understanding of the complicated factors that influence their willingness to pay, which extend beyond capacity to pay.

Semi-structured interviews conducted between November 2006 and July 2007 with 27 separated or divorced non-residential fathers were undertaken in Brisbane and Tasmania finding that most fathers agree that while continued financial support of their children is important, other factors complicate their willingness and happiness to pay child support.

Child support was found to be a difficult component in the lives of all respondents due to the financial costs, but also due to the symbolic dimension of money, which, in the case of child support, is associated with the loss of the provider role. This is evident in three ways. First, many fathers question whether the money they pay in child support is being spent appropriately. Second, those with regular contact with children express a sense of unfairness that their own costs associated with supporting their children are not properly acknowledged. Third, many emphasise the purchase of “extras” for their children which they see as a continuation of their provider role.

The results of this research suggest the importance of incorporating symbolic dimensions of fatherhood and money, as well as capacity to pay, into policy reforms aimed at changing non-residential parents child support behaviours.

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