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The Christian Science Monitor on Deadbeat Dads - a real wake-up for those who've bought the feminist dogma
Deadbeat Dads? Look Closer!
Bureaucratic Fiats on How Much is Owed
Don't Tell the Whole Story
by Bruce Walker
(Bruce Walker, executive coordinator:
District Attorney's Council, Oklahoma City, Okla.)
Deadbeat dads are the special targets of politicians hungry for
the perfect scapegoat. Child-support enforcement must be tougher and
tougher until all of these deadbeat dads are made to feel the lash, and
all will be well.
I have put hundreds of these deadbeat dads in jail, and I have
collected child support from tens of thousands of them. I was the primary
or only trial attorney in three child-support enforcement offices for
eight years, and then I ran the Oklahoma child-support enforcement program
for three years.
The real deadbeat dad is seldom a model citizen, but he is even
more seldom the mythical monster described by politicians. Most deadbeat
dads are frightened, angry, and depressed men who fall into several
Remarried Supporter: A large percentage of deadbeat dads
are remarried and are supporting several step-children or biological
children from a second marriage. Often this family is poorer than the
household of his ex-wife, who may have married a more successful
breadwinner. It is also common for the ex-wife of a deadbeat dad to have
remarried another deadbeat dad, who is supporting her and her children.
Men in Poverty: Many deadbeat dads are homeless, and an
even greater percentage are poor. Because the calculation of a woman's
income excludes many of the social welfare benefits she receives, the
statistical picture of women in poverty is highly misleading. Not only are
many deadbeat dads destitute, it is often their failures as providers
which led their ex-wives to divorce them. I prosecuted one deadbeat dad
who had been hospitalized for malnutrition and another who lived in the
bed of a pick-up truck. Many times I prosecuted impoverished men on
behalf of ex-wives who had remarried successful men and were living in
Fathers Helping Mothers: Men who provide non-monetary
support are deadbeat dads according to the child-support system. Mothers
and fathers often work out agreements for child support that involve dad
fixing the car, buying groceries, baby-sitting the children, or getting
clothes for the children. These men may be unemployed, but they want to
help their children. Sometimes they are concerned that monetary support
doesn't benefit the children, but the mother's newest boyfriend - or that
it goes to buy drugs or alcohol. None of the non-monetary support counts,
even if the mother and father want it to count and even if they agree in
writing that it should count.
Fathers Paying Child Support: Child support is "paid" only
when it's paid in a bureaucratically acceptable form. In a child-support
program, the jargon for other means of payment is a "shoe box full of
receipts" - which means a father who was paying his support, but not
through court or the program. I had thousands of these cases. In one, the
mother signed an affidavit that the dad had never paid. But when
confronted with receipts acknowledged that he had always paid support. Why
would she do that? She was on welfare; her child support became the
property of the state and federal government. If she keeps the child
support, it is welfare fraud.
Why would concerned fathers pay child support directly to the
mother? The bookkeeping in child support offices is atrocious. The mother
could be confused with another woman or the paying father with another
Men with actual custody: Yes, even men who are raising in
their homes the very children for whom child support is sought are
deadbeat dads. If a court order says that the mother has custody and is
entitled to child support, and if the mother gives the father the children
because she cannot control them or has other problems, then he is still
liable for child support.
Most of the fathers I prosecuted said that they would raise their
children with no help from the government and with no help from mom, if
given the chance.
Men who can't find their children: Even the inability to
find children to support is no excuse. The mother may leave the state
with their young children and not tell the father where she is for five
years. The child-support system can, and does, go in and collect five
years of delinquent child support from this deadbeat dad. In some cases,
of course, the mother has a very good reason because of domestic abuse,
but in other cases it is the father's allegations of child abuse by the
mother which prompt her to run.
Fathers who love their kids, but won't work for them: This
is different, of course, from mothers on welfare who won't support their
kids. The former are "creeps" and the latter are "victims of society". The
sad fact, however, is that children have precisely one set of parents, and
if the parents can provide emotional support, that is at least as valuable
as economic support. Many deadbeat dads love their children just as much
as the mothers on public assistance who don't support their children
either. The social costs of driving dad into another state or putting him
in jail are seldom considered in the calculus of child-support enforcement
Child-support resistors: Let's take the case of the
"worst deadbeat dad in the country." He fit none of the above categories.
He had money; he knew where his children were; he had no excuse. And he
was almost half a million dollars in arrears on child support.
But how much child support was this man ordered to pay each month?
$5,000? $10,000? There are middle-class men who are obligated to pay half
of their take home pay as child support. Mandatory child-support
guidelines remove from parties and even courts the power to determine what
support is fair and reasonable.
The guidelines are based on an "income sharing"' model which
presumes what the needs of the children are (instead of actually examining
the needs of the children). The result? A growing class of men who - on
principle - would rather go to jail than pay support.
There are solutions:
Permit mothers to receive directly and to keep any child support
she gets without turning any of it over to the government. This will help
families because it will let them keep all the support paid, and it will
remove the child-support program with its slow, error-prone distribution
of child-support payments.
Allow courts to consider all the children a man is supporting. It
is absurd to ignore the impact of child-support enforcement on
step-children and second biological families.
Let parents reach agreements on support and custody. If the mother
feels that dad's willingness to provide day care while she works or goes
to school should offset some child support, who does it hurt? If an
incorrigible young man needs to live with dad a year to get his life in
order, let the parents agree to waive dad's child support.
Base child support upon the actual needs of the child, not the
theoretical needs of a statistical average child. Each situation is
different, and it should produce different results.
Finally, recognize that the primary value of fathers to children
is not as "financial objects."' If there is one clear need today, it is
for fathers to be closer to their children. Fathers are as irreplaceable
in the lives of children as mothers. We recognize that mothers who - for
whatever reason - do not financially support their children still have a
vital role to play in the lives of the children. The same is true of
Christian Science Monitor, 1996
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