Two married parents living in one household with their children once comprised the normative family in the United States. Today, approximately 41 percent of children are born to unmarried parents and nearly one third of children live apart from at least one of their biological parents.1 These changes in family structure are cause for concern because unmarried fathers have no automatic legal ties to their children, and children living apart from at least one parent are considerably more likely to live in poverty and spend less time with the noncustodial parent.2
One strategy to ensure that unmarried fathers have legal ties to their children and to improve their financial and emotional investment in their children is to establish paternity in the hospital at the time of birth through parental signing of an Acknowledgement of Paternity Form (AOP).
The CFRP team has been conducting multiple large scale surveys over the last few months, as part of a paternity establishment project funded by the Texas Office of the Attorney General – Child Support Division (OAG). The first, called the Checking-in with AOP Signers (CAS) Study, recently wrapped up, and it examines the important role that fathers play in their children’s lives. For the study, CFRP targeted a geographically representative group of Texas families who had a child outside of marriage and established paternity in the hospital. Some of the families recruited to participate had entered the child support system and others had not.
Preliminary findings of the CAS Study show that approximately 69% of the fathers were living with their child’s mother when the child was born. Before the child’s fourth birthday, however, this initial involvement began to fade for many families. By the time the child was 3-1/2 years old, fewer than two out of five fathers lived with their child. With regard to financial support, of fathers who established paternity for their child at birth, approximately one-third enter the formal child support system by the time the child is 3-1/2, although not all of these fathers provide support regularly. Of the fathers who are not in the formal child support system or living with their child, fewer than half (48%) provide any form of financial or in-kind support to the mother and child. The CAS Study is investigating factors that may increase and prolong father involvement and support as well as topics such as the understanding of paternity establishment among Hispanic mothers, the effect of multiple births on mothers’ knowledge of paternity and child support, domestic violence and child support compliance, and many more topics affecting the wellbeing of Texas families. Additional findings from the CAS Study will be released later this year.