fatherlessness and child support debt

Too Many States Have Laws That Literally Offer Financial Incentives To DESTROY Families

While it obviously takes money to raise children, existing child support laws create fatherless kids.

Calls to restructure child support aren’t new as editorials have appeared in The Washington PostThe New York TimesThe Denver PostThe Baltimore SunThe Boston GlobeThe Charleston Post And Courier and in a report by National Public Radio.

Examining how child support creates fatherlessness begins at the national level by, as the saying goes, following the money.

Federally, Title IV-D is the part of the social security act establishing the National Child Support Program. Through it, the federal government provides an incentive by matching the amount each state collects in child support.

State laws are then written tying the amount of child support received to the amount of time the “custodial parent”, typically the mother, gets with the child. The more you minimize the other parent, the more money both you, and the state, receive.

Attorney John Schaefer stated:

“Currently in Michigan, the number of overnights a parent has with his or her children, very much drives the amount of child support paid. That is the worst legislation ever passed. It discourages parents who receive child support payments to be agreeable to their children spending more time with the other parent as it would diminish that support.”

In Michigan both you, and the state, get paid more to minimize fathers. It’s shameful, and Michigan isn’t alone.

On the Missouri House floor, Republican Rep. Paul Curtman discussed Title IV-D, saying:

“But unfortunately, that dollar does not go toward the child for child support. What I’m trying to figure out right now is when Missouri gets that money, where does that money go? Because if that money goes to the courts or goes to a bureaucracy, that means we have institutionalized a financial incentive to make sure that parents don’t have equal shared parenting. And if that’s the case that is a financial incentive, to quite literally, rip families apart.”

He continued:

“Government should never profit off of splitting children unequally between the mother and the father.”

Sorry, Representative, but governments are profiting and it’s a reason why one parent, typically fathers, are minimized to 5 days a month of “visitation.” We also know, many fathers “awarded” this time with their children, soon disappear. But governments aren’t the only ones profiting. Dangling the incentives of both time with their children and future payments to the winner, escalates the level of argument between divorcing parents, generating more income for the divorce industry.

Further, despite popular rhetoric, we’ve long known “deadbeat dads”, fathers living in luxury while their children suffer, are a rare species. Factually, 85 percent of child support arrears are owed by those making less than $20,000 per year — a percentage that’s growing.

graphic courtesy of Katie Park/NPR

graphic courtesy of Katie Park/NPR

The New York Times quoted a 2006 study finding:

“70 percent of the arrears were owed by people who reported less than $10,000 a year in income. They were expected to pay, on average, 83 percent of their income in child support.”

Does 83% sound realistic? Unrealistic payment schedules also create fatherlessness.

Joe Jones of the Center for Urban Families and Joan Entmacher, vice president for Family Economic Security at the National Women’s Law Center, believe unrealistic support orders don’t help anyone:

“The mother and the child don’t see the payments, and the father, too poor to pay, can end up in a vicious cycle with the criminal justice system that amounts to a modern-day debtor’s prison.”

Asked if incarceration is effective, CUNY Law professor Ann Cammett, an expert on incarcerated parents owing child support, said:

“We have zero evidence that it works. If the goal of the child support system is to get support for children, parents can’t do that if they’re incarcerated.”

They also can’t be dads, thus creating fatherlessness.

How many poor fathers does this impact? A South Carolina study found 13.2 percent of its inmate population was incarcerated for contempt related to child support.

Punitive actions causing fatherlessness also disproportionately impact African Americans, the subject of documentary film “Where’s Daddy?” — an accurate title for the results of these programs.

Fortunately, there are alternatives, as several jurisdictions are trying what they believe is a novel approach.

The Virginia Department of Social Services had an awakening on child support, describing it as “a completely new approach of looking at men as they are, fathers who care about their children.”

Likewise, the Colorado Division of Child Support Enforcement asked:

“What if we don’t just come after them with enforcement measures, but actually help them build a relationship with their children, help them get a job?”

While it’s pathetic such are considered novel ways for government agencies to view fatherhood, the results are, none-the-less, encouraging.

“Within six months, two-thirds of the parents receiving services had full-time employment. And within a year, three-quarters of them were working full time.”

In Franklin County Ohio, Judge Terri Jameson got tired of these cases.

“Once you’re found in contempt of court, the only option the court has is to put you in jail,” Jamison said. Jailing non-paying dads does nothing for the kids. So, the judge started working with the County’s Child Support Enforcement Division to create an army of social service agencies and employers to help these fathers get back on their feet.”

To stop creating fatherless kids, child support programs need to be radically reworked.

Federally, Title IV-D must be re-written to prohibit payments made to states which, in their laws, increase child support payments by minimizing one parent in the lives of their children. States providing financial incentives to “rip families apart” would immediately change their laws rather than risk losing the federal income.

Further, like Colorado and Virginia, states should help — not incarcerate — indigent fathers, thereby keeping them in the lives of their children. It’s clear, even poor children both want and benefit from having a father in their lives.

That will impact fatherlessness.


This is the fourth in our ongoing series on fatherlessness.

This article first appeared on The Daily Caller.

Photo by Alice Pasqual on Unsplash

Terry Brennan

View posts by Terry Brennan
Terry Brennan is a Father of two daughters, a CFO, and a Co-Founder of the international child advocacy organization, Leading Women for Shared Parenting (LW4SP).  He writes frequently on better public policy and fatherlessness.  You can connect with Terry on Twitter  @Terry Brennan 211 and learn more about shared parenting laws, research and polling at www.lw4sp.org.

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