Why Some Parents Don’t Deserve the Label “Deadbeat”

Child Support

As a society, when we hear that a parent does not send regular child support checks for the support of their children, we tend to label that parent as a “deadbeat”. But what if it isn’t that simple? Perhaps these parents provide support in other ways, ways that are less structured and harder to track, but still just as important.

Kathryn Edin, a sociologist at Johns Hopkins University, flew around the country interviewing single moms about how they support themselves and their children. On her journey, she unexpectedly came across fathers who could not afford to pay formal child support, but were providing their children with other types of support. She published these findings in the Journal of Marriage and Family.

Edin found that many fathers, who would be labeled “deadbeats” due to their failure to formally pay child support, actually wished they could comply with their parental obligations. Many simply did not have the means to write a monthly check for the amount required. But instead of foregoing their responsibilities altogether, they provide support to their children by “in kind” contributions such as buying formula, diapers, food, and also spending significant and meaningful time with their children. More often than not, after calculating the amount spent on such contributions, Edin found that many of these fathers were contributing large chunks of their income each month to the support of their children.

In a society where almost everything is “pay to play” and raising children is so costly, it seems unfair that credit is not given to a parent who, though unable to provide a set sum of money on a set date, instead opts to purchase clothing, food and other such necessities as a way of providing support. These parents want to be involved in their children’s lives as much as possible. Should the amount or consistency of a check ultimately determine how society gauges that parent’s love or dedication?

Perhaps it is time for the Courts to work with families to develop alternative arrangements, other than paying a specified monthly check, under certain circumstances. If they could identify constructive ways for the non-custodial parent to help raise and support their children, these well-intentioned parents could be recognized for their contributions, rather than being labeled as a deadbeat.

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