Child Support in Immigrant Families

Abstract

In this study, we use nationally representative data from the U.S. Current Population Survey-Child Support Supplement (N = 28,047) to examine differences in nonresident fathers’ material contributions between children of native and foreign-born mothers. We focus on contributions provided through the formal child support system (whether the mother has a child support agreement and the amount received), as well as support provided informally (the amount of informal cash and whether she receives any in-kind support). We control for a variety of individual and household characteristics, including whether the nonresident father lives in a different state or in a different country. We find that foreign-born mothers are much less likely to have a child support agreement than native-born mothers, but have similar amounts of formal support, once an agreement is in place. Compared to native-born mothers, foreign-born mothers are also much less likely to receive in-kind support, but this difference is completely explained by fathers’ distance from the child. Foreign-born mothers do not differ at all on the amount of informal cash support received from fathers. Nonresident fathers’ residence outside the U.S. is an important mechanism through which nativity affects the likelihood of having a child support order and receiving any in-kind support, but not the amount of formal support (given an order) or the amount of informal cash support. Aggregate comparisons mask important differences within the foreign-born group by mothers’ and children’s citizenship status, years in the U.S., and region of origin.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    SCHIP-State Children’s Health Insurance Program; SNAP-Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (formerly Food Stamps); TANF-Temporary Assistance to Needy Families; EITC-Earned Income Tax Credit.

  2. 2.

    Despite increases in custodial father families over the last several decades, in 2011, 82 % of custodial parents were mothers (Grall 2013). From here on, we refer to the custodial parent as the mother and the noncustodial parent as the father.

  3. 3.

    As of the 2010 legislative session, 25 states kept all of the child support paid on behalf of children on TANF, 11 states pass-through (or disregard for benefit eligibility) the first $50 paid, and the remaining states pass-through more than $50.

  4. 4.

    Because of insufficient sample sizes, we were unable to distinguish between Sub-Saharan African, Near Eastern and Middle Eastern regions. Therefore, 158 mothers’ were coded as other region of origin if they reported originating from any African country, Iran, Iraq, Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, Palestine, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Egypt, Morocco. The most frequent responses within this category were “Elsewhere” or country unknown (54), African country not specified (21), and Nigeria (12).

  5. 5.

    In results not shown, but available from authors, all models were estimated using weighted data and results were the same.

  6. 6.

    The coefficient for the "neither mother nor child citizen" group is only marginally significant at p < .10. We report these results and indicate these levels of statistical significance in the table, because, though our overall sample size is large, the samples for sub-groups of foreign-born mothers become quite small, as reflected in the relatively large coefficients yet marginal levels of statistical significance.

  7. 7.

    Mothers born in "other" regions report approximately $400 more in informal support receipt. Because this category is a catchall for mothers born in a very diverse set of countries with small sample sizes (see footnote 2), we do not discuss this result.

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Acknowledgments

This research was supported by generous funding from The Foundation for Child Development Young Scholars Program.

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Correspondence to Lenna Nepomnyaschy.

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Nepomnyaschy, L., Donnelly, L. Child Support in Immigrant Families. Popul Res Policy Rev 33, 817–840 (2014). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11113-014-9330-0

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Keywords

  • Nonresident fathers
  • Child support
  • Nativity
  • Citizenship
  • Children in immigrant families
  • Custodial mothers