Making 'deadbeat' parents a thing of the past
(Page 2 of 2)
Roundups also ignore the problems welfare mothers face. If a father pays child support, most of it goes to the state, not the mother, to offset the benefits she receives housing, welfare, food stamps.Skip to next paragraph
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Isaacs offers an example: If a father is paying $200 a month in child support, only about $50 might go to the mother. "There's no incentive for these low-income people to pay child support. They're better off just paying the mother."
Mr. Leving and others argue that child-support problems will not be solved by suspending driver's and professional licenses, intercepting income tax refunds, seizing assets, booting cars, and taking away hunting and fishing licenses.
Nor will roundups and high-profile arrests trumpeted on page 1 ultimately make a big difference.
What will help? Some solutions lie within the family.
Government studies show that involved parents with joint custody pay support more than 90 percent of the time. If they don't have visitation, it falls to less than 50 percent.
"The best way in the world to collect support is to keep the father involved with the child," Isaacs says.
He also urges custodial parents to provide a voluntary accounting of how they spend child-support money every year.
Some fathers want an end to what appears to be a double standard in the legal system.
"They throw fathers in jail for not paying support," Isaacs says. "But they don't throw mothers in jail for denying visitation. If the courts would enforce visitation orders with the same vigor that they enforce child support, they would get a lot more money than they do by going after these few people."
Child support represents big money. In 2000, the government collected $18 billion in payments. That same year, states and the federal government spent $4.5 billion to enforce child-support payments.
Several times, when I've interviewed divorced fathers, men have cried quietly as they told of being locked out of their children's homes and lives. Although some had been tempted to stop sending money, their love for their children prevailed.
"Just because I'm mad at my ex, I can't take it out on my kids," one father in St. Paul, Minn., said.
If more divorced parents shared that attitude, upaid support bills would decrease.
Every story has two sides, of course. Custodial parents who believe they have valid reasons for denying visitation, such as fears of abusive behavior, deserve to have their voices and concerns heard.
But grievances need to be resolved in court or by mediators, not individually on the basis of revenge. Withholding money only makes children innocent pawns caught between warring parents.
If the government really wants to help solve the child-support problem, Leving says, it needs to promote the importance of fatherhood and convince mothers to allow visitation. "That will stabilize not only the children but the broken family relationships."
That, in turn, could mark the beginning of a new era of parental responsibility. It could help to eliminate the word "deadbeat" from the vocabulary of the American family, even making "Gunsmoke"-style roundups passé.