Taking Care of Mine: Can Child Support Become a Family-Building Institution?

Kathryn Edin, Timothy J. Nelson, Rachel Butler, Robert Francis

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

19 Scopus citations


U.S. children are more likely to live apart from a biological parent than at any time in history. Although the Child Support Enforcement system has tremendous reach, its policies have not kept pace with significant economic, demographic, and cultural changes. Narrative analysis of in-depth interviews with 429 low-income noncustodial fathers suggests that the system faces a crisis of legitimacy. Visualization of language used to describe all forms child support show that the formal system is considered punitive and to lead to a loss of power and autonomy. Further, it is not associated with coparenting or the father–child bond—themes closely associated with informal and in-kind support. Rather than stoking men's identities as providers, the system becomes “just another bill to pay.” Orders must be sustainable, all fathers should have coparenting agreements, and alternative forms of support should count toward fathers' obligations. Recovery of government welfare costs should be eliminated.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)79-91
Number of pages13
JournalJournal of Family Theory and Review
Issue number1
StatePublished - Mar 2019

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Health(social science)
  • Social Psychology
  • Social Sciences (miscellaneous)


  • African American families
  • child support
  • family policy and law
  • low-income families
  • noncustodial fathers


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