Brooklyn Law Review


Laurie S. Kohn


Family law in the United States reflects and reinforces expectations about how fathers should interact with their children. Those expectations betray the legal system’s valuation of paternal roles in which financial contributions far outweigh other types of caretaking. This differential valuation, though advantageous to the overall wellbeing of some children, negatively affects low-income families, exacerbates cultural and societal pressures that drive men from being engaged parents, and compels mothers who seek paternal engagement to parent alone. As the populations of absent fathers and of fathers who are unable to meet their child support obligations increase, it is worth reevaluating the relative value the legal system assigns to paternal financial contributions and to caretaking. By recalibrating their relative worth so that the legal system holds the value of both paternal roles in equipoise, child support and paternal engagement could mutually reinforce each other and together enhance opportunities for fathers, mothers, and children.