Dads Against the Divorce Industry

DA*DI is devoted to reinstating the societal valuation of Marriage and the traditional, nuclear American Family, with particular emphasis on the essential role of FATHERS.

DA*DI offers contemporary reports and commentary on culture; its aberrations and its heroes.

Insight Magazine:
Vol. 15, No. 28 -- August 2, 1999

Q: Is court-ordered child support doing more harm than good?

Yes: This engine of the divorce industry is destroying families and the Constitution.

By Stephen Baskerville

. . . . Geoff came home one day to find a note on the kitchen table saying his wife had taken their two children to live with their grandparents. He quit his job as head of his department in a university and followed. He was summoned to court on eight-hours' notice and, without a lawyer and without being permitted to speak, was stripped of custody rights and ordered to stay away from his wife and children most of the time. Because he had no job, no car and no place to live, his mother cancelled a pending sale of her house, and he moved in with her. Geoff and his mother now pay about $1,200 a month to his wife and her wealthy parents, and he is left to live and care for his two children on about $700 a month. A judge also threatened him with jail if he did not pay a lawyer he had not hired. When his temporary job ends, the payments must continue, and he is not permitted to care for the children while unemployed. He also expects to be coerced into paying more legal fees. He has never been charged with any wrongdoing, either criminal or civil.
. . . . Geoff's experience increasingly is common. In fact, it is epidemic. Massive numbers of fathers who are accused of no wrongdoing now are separated from their children, plundered for everything they have, publicly vilified and incarcerated without trial.
. . . . About 24 million American children live in homes where the father is not present, with devastating consequences for both the children and society. Crime, drug and alcohol abuse, truancy, teenage pregnancy, suicide and psychological disorders are a few of the tragic consequences. Conventional wisdom assumes that the fathers of these children have abandoned them. In this case the conventional wisdom is dangerously wrong. It is far more likely that an "absent" father is forced away rather than leaving voluntarily.
. . . . In his new study, Divorced Dads: Shattering the Myths, Sanford Braver of Arizona State University has shown conclusively that the so-called "deadbeat dad," one who deserts his children and evades child support, "does not exist in significant numbers." Braver confirms that, contrary to popular belief, at least two-thirds of divorces are filed by mothers, who have virtual certainty of getting the children and a huge portion of the fathers' income, regardless of any fault on their part. The title of Ashton Applewhite's 1997 book says it succinctly: Cutting Loose: Why Women Who End Their Marriages Do So Well.
. . . . Other studies have found even higher percentages of divorces filed by mothers, and lawyers report that, when children are involved, divorce is the initiative of the mother in virtually all instances. Moreover, few of these divorces involve grounds such as desertion, adultery or violence. The most frequent reasons given are "growing apart" or "not feeling loved or appreciated." (Surveys consistently show that fathers are much more likely than mothers to believe parents should remain married.) Yet, as Braver reports, despite this involuntary loss of their children, 90 percent of these deserted fathers regularly pay court-ordered child support (unemployment being the main reason for nonpayment), often at exorbitant levels and many without any rights to see their children. Most make heroic efforts to stay in contact with the children from whom they are forcibly separated.
. . . . The plight of unmarried inner-city fathers is harder to quantify, but there is no reason to assume they love their children any less. A recent study conducted in Washington with low-income fathers ages 16 to 25 found that 63 percent had only one child; 82 percent had children by only one mother; 50 percent had been in a serious relationship with the mother at the time of pregnancy; only 3 percent knew the mother of their child only a little; 75 percent visited their child in the hospital; 70 percent saw their children at least once a week; 50 percent took their child to the doctor; large percentages reported bathing, feeding, dressing and playing with their children; and 85 percent provided informal child support in the form of cash or purchased goods such as diapers, clothing and toys. University of Texas anthropologist Laura Lein and Rutgers University professor Kathryn Edin recently found that low-income fathers often are far worse off than their government-assisted families, "but economically and emotionally marginal as many of these fathers are, they still represent a large proportion of low-income fathers who continue to make contributions to their children's households and to maintain at least some level of relationship with those children."
. . . . Yet the voices of these fathers rarely are heard in the public arena. Instead we hear the imprecations of a government conducting what may be the most massive witch-hunt in this country's history. Never before have we seen the spectacle of the highest officials in the land -- including the president, the attorney general and other Cabinet secretaries, and leading members of Congress from both parties -- using their offices as platforms from which publicly to vilify private citizens who have been convicted of nothing and who have no opportunity to reply.
. . . . Under the guise of pursuing deadbeat dads, we now are seeing mass incarcerations without trial, without charge and without counsel, while the media and civil libertarians look the other way. We also have government officials freely entering the homes and raiding the bank accounts of citizens who are accused of nothing and simply helping themselves to whatever they want -- including their children, their life savings and their private papers and effects, all with hardly a word of protest noted.
. . . . And these are fathers who are accused of nothing. Those who face trumped-up accusations of child abuse also must prove their innocence before they can hope to see their children. Yet now it is well established that most child abuse takes place in the homes of single mothers. A recent study from the Department of Health and Human Services, or HHS, found that "almost two-thirds [of child abusers] were females." Given that male perpetrators are not necessarily fathers but much more likely to be boyfriends and stepfathers, fathers emerge as the least likely child abusers. A British study by Robert Whelan in 1993 titled Broken Homes and Battered Children concluded that a child living with a single mother is up to 33 times more likely to be abused than a child living in an intact family. The argument of many men legally separated from their families is that the real abusers have thrown the father out of the family so they can abuse his children with impunity.
. . . . In Virginia alone the state Division of Child Support Enforcement now is "pursuing" 428,000 parents for up to $1.6 billion, according to its director, Nick Young. In a state of fewer than 7 million people, the parents of 552,000 children are being "pursued." That is the parents of roughly half the state's minor dependent children. HHS claims that almost 20 million fathers in the nation are being pursued for something close to $50 billion. We are being asked to believe that half the fathers in America have abandoned their children willfully.
. . . . These figures essentially are meaningless. If they indicate anything it is the scale on which families are being taken over by a destructive and dangerous machine consisting of judges, lawyers, psychotherapists, social workers, bureaucrats and women's groups -- all of whom have a direct financial interest in separating as many children from their fathers as possible, vilifying and plundering the fathers and turning them into criminals. The machine is so riddled with conflicts of interest that it is little less than a system of organized crime. Here is how it works: Judges are appointed and promoted by the lawyers and "custody evaluators," into whose pockets they funnel fees; the judges also are influenced with payments of federal funds from child-support enforcement bureaucracies that depend on a constant supply of ejected fathers; child-support guidelines are written by the bureaucracies that enforce them and by private collection companies that have a financial stake in creating as many arrearages and "deadbeat dads" as possible. These guidelines are then enacted by legislators, some of whom divert the enforcement contracts to their own firms, sometimes even taking personal kickbacks (as charged in a recent federal indictment in Arkansas). Legislators who control judicial appointments also get contracts (and kickbacks, again the case in Arkansas) for providing legal services at government expense in the courts of their appointees. And, of course, custody decisions and child-support awards must be generous enough to entice more mothers to take the children and run, thus bringing a fresh supply of fathers into the system. In short, child support is the financial fuel of the divorce industry. It has very little to do with the needs of children and everything to do with the power and profit of large numbers of adults.
. . . . For their part, politicians can register their concern for fatherless children relatively cheaply by endlessly (and futilely) stepping up "child-support" collection while creating programs ostensibly designed to "reunite" fathers with their children. Even some fatherhood advocates jump on the bandwagon, attacking "absent" fathers while holding their tongues about the judicial kidnapping of their children. Though almost everyone now acknowledges the importance of fathers, for too many there are more political and financial rewards in targeting them as scapegoats than in the more costly task of upholding the constitutional rights of fathers and their children not to be ripped apart.
. . . . There is no evidence that endless "crackdowns" on evicted fathers serve any purpose other than enriching those in the cracking-down business. With child- support enforcement now a $3 billion national industry, the pursuit of the elusive deadbeat yields substantial profits, mostly at public expense. "In Florida last year," writes Kathleen Parker in the Orlando Sentinel, "taxpayers paid $4.5 million for the state to collect $162,000 from fathers"; and the story is the same elsewhere.
. . . . Instead of the easy fiction that massive numbers of fathers are suddenly and inexplicably abandoning their children, perhaps what we should believe instead is that a lucrative racket now is cynically using our children as weapons and tools to enrich lawyers and provide employment for judges and bureaucrats. Rather than pursuing ever greater numbers of fathers with ever more Draconian punishments, the Justice Department should be investigating the kind of crimes it was created to pursue -- such as kidnapping, extortion and racketeering -- in the nation's family courts.

Related Stories:

  • L. A. Times: 150 L.A. Cops "Sweep" 880 "Deadbeat" Dads
  • John Smith - L. A. Times: Still Supporting Failed Child Support Policies

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