If fathers are young, they may have no means of providing financial support to the mother or child. For young fathers who are struggling with finishing school or entering a new job, being ordered to pay child support until the child becomes an adult is challenging, even if the amount is minimal.
Ideally, the child support system ensures that parents have the resources they need to positively support their children. However, problems often arise when a child support order may be too high relative to a non-residential father’s income or other obligations, or when fathers are unwilling to fulfill child support obligations.
Because unpaid child support can lead to overwhelming debts, fatherhood program staff should help fathers develop the means and motivation to pay their child support and help them modify support orders when necessary. Programs should also ensure that fathers know their parental rights, understand the benefits for themselves and their children of establishing paternity, and are familiar with basic terms and procedures if they need to go to court for custody or visitation. Additionally, several examples highlight that a child’s relationship with the father can benefit through the coordination of child support orders and parenting time agreements.
Fathers who are unable to pay child support often are the main participants seen by fatherhood programs. These fathers generally want to support their children but lack financial resources. In these cases, the best approach may be to begin with focusing on small and meaningful contact with their child(ren).
Tips & Best Practices
- Child support can be especially challenging for young fathers who may still be navigating finishing school, enrolling in training, or beginning a career. For these fathers, an emphasis on workforce development support services is critical. Promising practices include helping with job searches, enrolling in training, finding jobs, encouraging participants to obtain their GED or other program or degree; and assisting with transportation, childcare, health services, and professional clothing.
- Working with local child support offices to speak informally with program staff and fathers can increase mutual understanding of child support policies and procedures. If program staff know how to obtain and complete required forms, they can better help fathers navigate a complex system. Similarly, working with child support staff as partners can make it easier to resolve issues before they get out of hand.
- There are various factors for why a father may fulfill or fail to meet his child support obligations. About half of fathers with formal child support orders fulfill their obligations on a regular basis. Approximately 25% have financial resources but choose not to pay. The remaining 25% of fathers struggle to make ends meet, and often build up substantial arrears. In some of these cases, initial child support order amounts may be set too high relative to income. Amounts may also be too high if there are changes in employment status, or they are incarcerated. Some fathers also have children with multiple mothers, which further complicates their situations.
The South Carolina Center for Fathers and Families (SCCFF) was formed in 2002 as a result of a community needs assessment and grant-making initiative by the Sisters of Charity Foundation of South Carolina that began in 1996. A task force considered grant-making opportunities by posing questions such as:
- Is the issue a niche and does it represent an underserved community?
- Is there any available research on the issue and can more research be done?
- Is the issue palatable for public discourse?
- Does the issue satisfy the mission of the Sisters of Charity of St. Augustine?
Based on the work of this task force, the foundation decided to address the social and economic consequences of father absence through a statewide fatherhood initiative, Reducing Poverty through Father Engagement. A partnership agreement was created with the University of South Carolina to provide technical assistance, synthesize the research that became the best practices of the initiative, and design the program models. Through a second partnership agreement with the South Carolina Department of Social Services to strengthen fragile families, SCCFF was formed with the mission to develop and support a statewide infrastructure deeply invested in repairing and nurturing relationships between fathers and families. Since 2002, SCCFF has worked with numerous programs throughout the state and developed partnerships with other key agencies, such as workforce development, child protective services, and child support enforcement, to encourage program referrals and ensure that a full array of services is available.
How can programs assist fathers who have made informal child support arrangements?
Some fathers have informal arrangements to provide financial support on a regular or irregular basis. Other fathers have formal child support orders specifying monthly amounts that they pay directly to the mother or through a child support enforcement agency. Fathers who provide informal support can be encouraged to keep receipts for purchases such as baby clothing or diapers. If they provide cash to mothers directly, they might pay with a money order or check so they have documentation of support provided. This may be helpful if a formal support order is ever established.
How can my program form effective child support partnerships with outside organizations?
For more information and tips on partnering to assist fathers paying child support, view the Child Support, Custody, and Visitation page. It includes webinars on working with child support agencies as well as resources on child support enforcement and local offices.
How can my program particularly assist young fathers?
Education, employment, parenting and relationship support, and assisting with paternity establishment all are strategies that go a long way to assist young parents. For more information, please consult the Resources for Working with Young Fathers section of the National Responsible Fatherhood Clearinghouse.