WASHINGTON -- Half of fathers who live apart from their children are tied to at least one other set of kids, researchers said Monday, meaning many dads face complicated decisions about where to spend their time and money.
The study, based on a national survey of households, found that fathers with at least two sets of children in their lives were less likely to pay child support and less likely to visit the kids who live apart from them.
Researchers examined fathers' lives in a new way in an attempt to measure their competing interests. They counted biological children from different mothers, stepchildren living with them and stepchildren who live elsewhere.
''Men's lives as fathers are much more complicated than we give them credit for. They're responsible for lots of different children,'' said Wendy Manning, a sociologist at Bowling Green State University, who conducted the research with colleagues at the University of Michigan and the University of Richmond.
''There's just all kinds of complexities that we often ignore in our effort to understand men's lives.''
Their paper, which has been accepted for publication in a forthcoming issue of the Journal of Family Issues, suggests that states make policies that would take competing sets of children into account when setting rules for child support payments.
''Sometimes states act like men only have one group of children to be responsible for,'' Manning said.
The study examined 649 fathers with biological children who did not live with them, with data drawn from the National Survey of Families and Households, conducted at the University of Wisconsin in 1987 and 1988. The study was paid for by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development.
Among the nonresident fathers, half had at least one other set of children, either their own or those belonging to a new mate.
Asked how often they visited their absent children, half of all fathers said they never did. About 28 percent said they had visited several times in the previous year, and 19 percent said they visited at least once a month.
Those numbers were lower among fathers with at least one other set of children, although researchers did not offer precise percentages.
Similarly, while 77 percent of all nonresident fathers said they paid child support in the last year, the rate was lower among dads with other children in their lives.
The research examined in greater detail those fathers living with or married to someone new. Almost half of this group had two sets of children, with a quarter of them having three or more sets.
The study found that those fathers with three or more sets of children were even less likely to pay child support than those with two sets, although the same pattern did not hold true for visitation.
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