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Child Support Statistics: Myths, legends and the American Way: Deadbeat dads

Child Support Statistics: Myths, legends and the American Way: Deadbeat dads

(Summary: 62% of custodial mothers do not receive child support. However, of that number, three-fourths of them simply do not want child support, have not asked for it, have accepted other financial arrangements instead of child support, or the father does not have the money. Only 11% of those custodial mothers who do not receive child support, is because of "deadbeat dads".)

The "deadbeat dad" craze has allowed the blame of several social ills, from poverty to welfare costs to social pathology, to be placed squarely in the laps of fathers. When we view government data that 6.2 million single mothers do not receive child support, we cringe in disbelief, and wonder how those dads could be so heartless to their children. How can those fathers just walk away from their responsibilities?

Or, perhaps there is another story to be told? Examining the data closer reveals a much different picture of why things are the way they are. It suggests that the severe draconian measures placed to enforce child support are no more than knee-jerk reactions which are oppressing a whole class of people to punish a few. When the reasons for custodial mothers not receiving child support, or not even having a child support order to begin with, are examined, it becomes clear that "deadbeat dads" are a rarity, and the current policies in place will never work.

Of those custodial mothers who do not receive child support, almost 30% of them either simply do not want child support, or have never asked for it. These are not the cases of dads willfully neglecting their children; it's a case of the mother not wanting the child support or not asking for it to begin with. Some of these dads don't even know that they are dads! Some of these mothers receive informal support from the father, and do not wish to get involved with the government and child support enforcement. In almost 25% of the cases, the father simply cannot afford to pay child support. Now, keep in mind that this data was determined by asking the custodial mother why she is not receiving child support. These are not dads who are hiding assets and crying poor. The custodial mothers have admitted that one-quarter of the dads do not pay child support because they do not have the money.

Over 20% of the custodial mothers have come to other financial agreements with the father. These fathers are providing financially for their children. They are just not doing it in the traditional manner. This category also includes those fathers who have died and the fathers of children who have reached the age of emancipation. More than 2% of those who do not pay, do not pay because paternity has not been established. These fathers either do not know that they are fathers, or are not sure the child is in reality theirs.

Over 11% of custodial mothers do not have a child support order for unspecified reasons. However, one of these "unspecified" reasons is that the father and mother are currently living together.

This leaves the category we hear so much about. Those fathers who cannot be located, or are not paying a child support order (other than for reasons of not having the money). Here's those "deadbeat dads". They account for 11% of those custodial mothers who do not receive child support. 11%. With all the ballyhoo, you would think that these make up the majority. Instead, the represent just slightly more than one-tenth of the total. How about those fathers who run and hide? Well, they are part of that 11% figure. They make up almost 6% of those who do not pay child support. Not quite the exodus that we are led to believe occurs. If we look at the whole population of custodial mothers, we see that "deadbeat dads" account for only 7% of the population. Only 3.5% of fathers cannot be located (which are included in the 7% figure). These are not the figures we think about when we see "deadbeat dad" articles bannered across newspaper headlines. It is time to stop making policies based on myths and distortions. It is time to recognize that single fathers are like any other group of people out there; the vast majority of them are good, loving people who will happily care for and love their children. Why have we been so willing to believe the worst of these dads? Why have we accepted the negative images without question?

And even for those real "deadbeats", why are we so quick to approve of punitive measures against these fathers, instead of seeking ways to encourage their involvement? Why have we applauded license revocations, wage garnishment and even imprisonment, and have not even bothered to look at positive means of encouraging support from these fathers? Faced with these types of attitudes, how would you react? Of 10 million custodial mothers, only 700,000 (7%) do not receive child support because of "deadbeat dads". This is not minimize the problems that those custodial mothers face. But "deadbeats" are by far the minority. Keep this in mind the next time you hear yet another story about all of those "deadbeats".

(Sources for data: GAO/HRD-92-39FS, January 9, 1992, and DHHS Greenbook, chapter 11)

Bruce Walker, executive coordinator at the District Attorney's Council in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma has been quoted as saying:

"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 overlapping categories:"

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 comfortable conditions.

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 man.

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 yearsof 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 benefits.

Child-support resistors.
Let's take the case of the "worst deadbeat dad in the country." He fits 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.

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