Theses Doctoral

Factors and Outcomes Associated with Patterns of Child Support Arrears

Um, Hyunjoon

The term “deadbeat dad” has been used to refer to nonresident fathers who intentionally avoid meeting child support obligations. Such a stereotypical image has reinforced the notion that public policy should strengthen the child support enforcement system to prevent nonresident fathers from escaping their financial obligations to their children. Public pressure, along with the need to recoup government expenditures on welfare costs, has compelled the federal and state governments to build a strong child support enforcement program during the past decades. Although many empirical researchers have found that strict child support enforcement is responsible for an increase in child support payments received through a formal system, the extent of non-payments still remains high. Arrears, defined as unpaid child support either owed to custodial families or the government, grew to over $115 billion nationally. Although the Office of Child Support Enforcement (OCSE) collected and distributed approximately $7 billion of these arrears in 2016, 11.3 million child support cases still had arrears remaining.
Despite the growing problem of child support arrears, relatively little research has been carried out on the long-term factors and outcomes associated with arrears accumulation. This is because prior studies of child support arrears rely on cross-sectional data, which cannot adequately address this research gap. What is more, in regarding information on child support outcomes, many previous child-support studies rely predominantly on maternal reports rather than on information obtained directly from the noncustodial fathers, which may introduce measurement errors. The proposed study will solve this problem by using data from Fragile Families and Child Well-Being Study, a longitudinal survey of 4,898 children born to married and unmarried parents in the major cities in the U.S. between 1998 and 2000. Because the data are the first and only longitudinal information providing a nationally representative sample of unmarried fathers, it is eminently suited to address the limitation of prior research.
The objective of the proposed three-paper dissertation is to address gaps in the literature by exploring the following three questions.
Question 1. What are the effects of state-level child support enforcement policies on long-term individual patterns of arrears accumulations among noncustodial fathers?
Strong child-support enforcement is responsible for noncustodial father’s child support arrears accumulation. However, little is known about the extent to which child support policies affect noncustodial fathers’ long-term patterns of arrears accumulation. Studying the long-term patterns of arrears accumulation is potentially important, especially for policy makers who would be better able to make informed decisions about the timing of policy intervention. This chapter will examine the long-term impact of child support policies that penalize a father who had failed to comply with child support obligations on his arrears accumulation patterns.
Question 2. What is the association between arrears and fathers’ later health/mental health outcomes?
The next chapter of the study will discuss one of the detrimental consequences of child support arrears: fathers’ health and mental health problems. While several notable qualitative studies have provided anecdotes about challenges that the noncustodial fathers face after the accumulation of child support arrears, only one quantitative study examined the association between the fathers’ arrears and their health and mental health problems. The proposed study will address these gaps in knowledge by using the stress process model proposed by Pearlin and colleagues.
Question 3. How child support indebtedness matter for residential union formation among non-resident couples at childbirth?
How money matters for union transitions among low-income unmarried parents have been of great interest to policy makers given the extensive evidence that marriage (or cohabitation) is associated with lower rates of child poverty. Child support enforcement is the tool intended to mitigate financial loss experienced by children. The system simply collects money from the noncustodial parent (usually fathers) and distributes it to the custodial parent (usually mothers). Therefore, the child support system is highly linked to union transitions decisions among parents who are either recipients or obligors of child support. Despite extensive empirical studies on this topic, limited research has been aimed at understanding the adverse consequences of child support enforcement and its impact on union formation. That is, rather than successfully collecting money from noncustodial fathers, some governments’ efforts could be failed to make many low-income fathers comply with their obligations, resulting in a decline in the amount of child support received by custodial mothers. Thus, this chapter will investigate whether fathers’ arrears accumulation affects transitions to residential unions among parents not living in such unions at childbirth. In this chapter, parents who did not cohabit at birth, but who subsequently formed residential unions with one another or with a new partner are modeled as competing risks using a discrete-time competing risks hazard model framework.


  • thumnail for Um_columbia_0054D_15279.pdf Um_columbia_0054D_15279.pdf application/pdf 1.42 MB Download File

More About This Work

Academic Units
Social Work
Thesis Advisors
Mincy, Ronald B.
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
June 5, 2019