Regulatory agencies establish criteria for Parenting Contracts and encourage compliance
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Increases in single-parent households, often involving never married couples, have heightened the urgency to understand decisions parents make about parent-child relationships after separation. This qualitative study provides a descriptive analysis of the concerns of mothers in non-marital relationships that may affect their decisions regarding visitation and clarifies the relationship between visitation and paying child support. Weighing the benefits versus the costs, most mothers were willing to allow visitation even if the father did not pay child support, recognizing the importance of father-child relationships. It is imperative to make parenting plans and visitation as important as payment of child support. Funding for fathering programs and creation of father-friendly environments are essential to increase involvement of non-custodial fathers.
Keywords: non-custodial fathers, father-child relationships, never married fathers, single-parent households, child support, visitation, father-friendly environments
In 2002, 69% of children under 18 lived with two parents, 23% lived only with their mother, and 5% lived only with their father. Thus, in single parent households, children have been more than four times as likely to live with their mother than to live with their father (Fields, 2003). About one-third of custodial mothers have never been married, while 17.2% of custodial fathers have never been married (Grail, 2002). In spite of ample evidence that fathers are important to children's development and well-being (see, for example, Sylvester & Reich, 2002), studies have shown that, over time, non-custodial fathers tend to become less involved in the lives of their children (Amato & Gilbreth, 1999; Argys, Peters, Brooks-Gunn, & Smith, 1998). This is more likely to occur when the parents have not been married (Seltzer, 1991).
The Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996 included provisions to promote and strengthen two-parent families and to encourage father involvement, primarily through increased collection of child support (Katz, 1996). Policies to encourage contact between non-custodial fathers and their children have been proposed in legislation to foster responsible fatherhood (S. 653, 2001). These policy trends increase the urgency to comprehend the dynamics of parents' decisions regarding contact with their children after separation. This understanding is important for a number of reasons including (1) the effect of parents' decisions on children's well-being, (2) enhanced self-esteem for fathers when they are actively involved with their children, and (3) the advantages for mothers when there is a second parent to help with child-raising. The goal of this article is to present concerns that custodial mothers have about non-custodial father-child contact that may affect their decisions regarding visitation, to clarify the relationship between visitation and paying child support, and to make recommendations for policy that could enhance father-child relationships. Focus was limited to mothers who were not married to the father at the time of the child's birth since they must face somewhat different issues than mothers in divorce situations. For example,paternity will not be acknowledged until it is established legally. Also, not being married means that the couple may or may not have been in a committed relationship at the time of the pregnancy. This study has sought to answer (1) how mothers feel about visitation, (2) determinants that are important in mothers' decisions about visits, and (3) the influence of the child's feelings on her decisions. One determinant thought to be a possible indicator of the mother's decisions was the connection between child support and her degree of willingness to allow visits between her child and his/her father, in that the father could demand visits if he was ordered to pay child support.
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