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Does Paying Child Support Reduce a Man's Chances of Remarriage?

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Kermyt Anderson presents an interesting evolutionary perspective on child support that suggests some interesting findings in a study recently published in Evolution and Human Behavior.

Anderson reminds us that from an evolutionary perspective only human males invest in their nonresident children when their relationship to their children's mother has ended. One of the primary ways in which these fathers continue to invest is through paying child support. Recent estimates indicate that about 63% of custodial mothers received some amount of child support, but only about half received the full amount. In short, although many fathers pay child support, many do not pay the full amount and about 4 in 10 provide no financial support to their children. (See Grall, 2009 for more details.)

However, following divorce one of the key reasons for investing is one's children is removed. During the marriage supporting one's children has positive benefits for both the marriage and the children, but following divorce the "marriage-investment" reasons are removed, thus, reducing one of men's reasons for continuing to invest in the children. From this evolutionary perspective, a man's investment in his previous children reduces his chances of investing in a new romantic partner and any future children. Based on evolutionary theory Anderson predicted that men who paid child support would be less likely to get remarried and have additional children.

To test these hypotheses, Anderson used the longitudinal dataset maintained by the University of Michigan that began in 1968 to follow a representative sample of 5,000 US households and to collect data about family and social life.

The first question that Anderson analyzed was whether men who paid child support were less likely to get remarried. In contrast to Anderson's prediction, men who paid child support were twice as likely to get remarried as those who did not pay child support. He suggests that paying child support may be viewed by potential women partners as a sign that the man is reliable and responsible, a factor often identified as important in mate selection.

So what about the effects of child support payments on the likelihood of additional children? Here Anderson's reasoning seems to hold up. Fathers who pay support their previous children financially are somewhat less likely to have subsequent children. In short, one could say that their continued payment of child support represents a commitment to invest in their current children rather than to invest in additional children.

These findings suggest new insight into how child support may play a role in future relationships and family formations. Findings by other scientists also support the hypothesis that father's investment with their children is a positive factor in remarriage. Stewart, Manning and Smock in 2003 (Journal of Marriage and Family) found that never married men who had high levels of involvement with their nonresident children were more likely to form cohabitating unions with new partners.

In contrast to the pure evolutionary hypothesis that emphasizes the negative impact of investing in one's previous children on remarriage, there is a countervailing positive signal of fathering responsibility that improves a man's chances of remarriage.

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