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Teenage Parents

Each year thousands of teenage girls, some as young as 12, enter into the Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) system because they become pregnant. These girls are eligible to receive welfare benefits for their children because the fathers are almost always noncustodial. Many of the fathers are also teenagers still attending high school and are frequently unable to pay child support because of their lack of income. These cases, commonly called “minor-mother” cases, are automatically referred to the state child support enforcement agency by the welfare department. When the agency receives a minor-mother referral, it begins legal proceedings against three parties: the father of the minor-mother, the mother of the minor-mother, and the father of the minor-mother’s child. Because the parents of minor-mothers are legally responsible to support their daughters until emancipation, they must pay child support for their minor-mother daughters. The Welfare Reform Act has enacted important changes for teenage parents and minor-mothers. In order for a minor-mother to be eligible to receive AFDC benefits, she must enroll in high school or a state-approved GED program and live under adult supervision. The Welfare Reform Act has thus eliminated the enticement of physical and financial independence from one’s parents. Another significant change implemented by the Welfare Reform Act is that parents of a noncustodial teenage father (the grandparents of the minor-mother’s child) are liable to pay child support until their teenage son emancipates, if the minor-mother receives welfare. Prior to enactment of the Welfare Reform Act, grandparents were never liable to pay child support for their grandchildren, and the government could not collect child support from a minor-father until he became employed.

Additionally, the parents of a minor teenage noncustodial parent may face paternity action requests for child support from them, rather than the father of the newborn. When a minor child gives birth, that minor child is responsible for her baby, and the minor’s parents remain responsible for her. However, if the young person under the age of 18 continues to live at home, the grandparents’ income will be “deemed available” to the grandchild to determine eligibility for Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF), and the mother may seek through the court to have the paternal grandparent’s income “deemed available” for child support purposes.

An important issue facing the U.S. Supreme Court in its 2005–2006 session was a 2003 New Hampshire state law requiring pregnant minors to advise a parent or legal guardian at least 48 hours in advance of having an abortion. The subject law allowed a single exception if the procedure was necessary to prevent the minor’s death. (Ayotte v. Planned Parenthood, No. 04-1144)

Inside Teenage Parents