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Proposals for Strengthening Fragile Families

Recent research about unwed parents shed light on what happens to the parents and the children in these so-called "fragile families." The internationally renowned Brookings Institution has now issued proposals for lawmakers to consider as they try to grapple with issues facing this large and growing demographic.

Fully 40 percent of U.S. children are now born to parents who aren't married at the time of the birth.

The Institution argues in one of its policy proposals that both federal and state governments need to be more realistic in requiring child support payments of noncustodial parents in tough economic times.

This means courts shouldn't demand unemployed or underemployed parents to make child support payments they realistically can't meet.

At the same time, the organization argues that the safety net for single parents needs to be strengthened so that children and parents don't suffer when the noncustodial parent is struggling financially. That means strengthening the welfare system for the custodial and the noncustodial parents, Brookings argues.

The group also urges the adoption of three other policies to help kids who are part of fragile families in Massachusetts and across the country:

  • Improve efforts to reduce the number of nonmarital pregnancies.
  • Reform the prison system, with an emphasis on reducing sentences for people convicted of victimless crimes; unmarried fathers are five times more likely to serve time in prison, dramatically diminishing their ability to provide emotional or financial support for their children
  • Do not give up on federal programs encouraging healthy marriages

It's hard to assess the political viability of the proposals, but it's good to see the Institution making serious, thoughtful proposals affecting family law and so many of the nation's children.

Source: Brookings Institution: "Strengthening Fragile Families": October 27, 2010

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