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The objective of this study was to analyze how marginalized men's coparenting perspectives and experiences shaped their engagement with a responsible fatherhood program (RFP).
Previous studies of fathers enrolled in RFPs found that their coparenting relationships have both positive and negative components and that program participation is associated with better coparenting communication. Yet men also report strained coparenting relationships as a primary barrier to paternal involvement. More exploratory research is needed to understand how fathers use RFPs to navigate coparenting challenges.
In‐depth interviews and focus groups were conducted with a nonrandom sample of 64 low‐income fathers of color who participated in a federally funded RFP. Inductive coding techniques revealed how men used the program to manage complex and conflicted coparenting arrangements and to gain greater access to their children.
The program helped fathers manage common coparenting challenges, including interpersonal conflict, mothers' perceived gatekeeping, and financial obstacles. They found support for forming closer relationships with children outside “package deal” understandings of fathering and for proving their paternal commitments amid severe economic constraints.
Fathers enrolled in an RFP primarily due to conflicted coparenting relationships exacerbated by poverty, unemployment, and homelessness. Program services helped them navigate the challenges of raising children with partners, exes, or coparents with whom they never had a romantic connection.
These findings reinforce the importance of addressing coparenting in RFPs. Messages and services should align with how fathers prioritize bonds with children and seek to prove their paternal commitments to coparents.