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Are deadbeat parents really avoiding all responsibility?

California parents who owe child support may be familiar with the challenges that can occur when financial difficulties arise. Some deadbeat parents fail to meet their obligations because of job losses, layoffs or other crises that interfere with earning a living. However, a recent study demonstrates that those considered deadbeats because of failure to meet court-ordered obligations may actually be contributing more than the public realizes.

While child support may be tracked through the family court system, many parents provide support in other forms. In some cases, parents give cash directly to the custodial parties to whom support payments are due. Others provide support in the form of diapers, clothing, food and other goods. These in-kind support options won't show up in the family court records, but they do reflect the concern of parents for the welfare of their children.

Conclusions drawn in the study indicate that while society paints the deadbeat parent as disinterested and uninvolved in the life of a child, many such parents actually strengthen the bonds with their children through more tangible support methods. The traditional child support system may create a disconnect by allowing funds to be handled in a less tangible manner. Giving in-kind support allows parents to demonstrate practically that they are providing and that they love their children. Because these gifts may not be tracked through formal avenues, however, parents may still face legal challenges in connection with non-payment of their support obligations.

A parent who is unable to meet court-ordered support obligations but who has provided in-kind support might want to keep receipts as a record of having contributed in some way to a child's welfare. Additionally, a parent might find it helpful to seek a modification of a support order to accommodate life changes that have affected their financial position.

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