Though parents of either gender can be granted sole child custody during divorce, more often it seems that courts order custody for mothers, with fathers retaining visitation rights. This may be one reason we hear the term “deadbeat dads” more often than “deadbeat moms” or the more gender-neutral “deadbeat parents” when it comes to the subject of falling behind on child support.

Paying child support is an important responsibility, because no child should be deprived of necessities like food, clothing and shelter because his or her parents are no longer together. But there is official child support, and then there is a less formal version that courts are often unaware of, according to The Street.

The website recently shared an article about a study released by Johns Hopkins University that examined the child-support habits of 377 low-income non-custodial fathers in three U.S. cities. They represent a group many may accuse of frequently failing to pay child support in full and on time.

However, the study found that it was common for the fathers to buy their children goods like baby products, food and clothing. Around 46 percent of the fathers studied practiced this informal version of child support. The study speculates that doing so gives the dads a chance to bond with their kids, and ensures that their money is being spent on things the kids need.

For custodial parents, this may be an acceptable substitute for cash. But it may not be workable, especially if the other parent is buying inappropriate things, or spending significantly less that he or she owes in child support.