It’s commonplace online, or in the media to hear of single mothers trying to support their children after a divorce, while the dad pays nothing in support. Organizations have been set up and millions of dollars are spent in the legal system to go after these so-called deadbeat dads, who are somehow fleeing the system and getting out of paying their financial dues to help raise their children. Certainly, it is only fair to expect that a man, who has taken half the onus of bringing a child into this world, should also pay half the financial burden AND be involved in the process of child-rearing. But what happens when these labeled deadbeat dads, are just men who really want to help support, but cannot afford it?
The reality is that in a one side legal system, where women often get both custodial rights and support payments such as alimony and child support, the men who move out of the home have a difficult time paying the bills. When a divorce or separation occurs, suddenly a financially struggling couple has to be able to provide for TWO households. Two rents, two grocery bills, two sets of utility bills. Considering that the vast majority of families raising children is only able to keep about 2 weeks of savings in the bank, it is sometimes very difficult for these ‘dads’ to make ends meet AND pay child support. And yet, they are labeled by society as ‘dead beat dads’ and chastised by a legal system and even soured with bad credit due to a divorce that makes having anything nearly impossible.
There are many dads out there in this world who are very willing to provide both financial and emotional support to their children, yet being saddled with often unrealistic payments for alimony, legal bills and child support have made it nearly impossible for them to do so. And, what happens next with the absence of payments is that many mothers and court systems simply write these men off, reduce visitation rights, and withhold the children in lieu of payment satisfaction. Suddenly, these men who often feel hopeless and who have completely run out of resources get labeled as deadbeat dads, AND lose relationships with their children. Society sees them, and they are often portrayed as men who simply walked out on their children and their responsibilities.
According to studies out of Canada and the US, around 85% of all children whose fathers are court ordered child support, receive some sort of compensation. These statistics also reveal that there is a close correlation between the regularity of payments and the frequency of contact that these dads have with their children. Similar studies also indicate that many non-custodial fathers, who don’t pay child support, simply cannot afford to. After all, there is not some automatic raise in wages that occurs with a divorce and as mentioned earlier, the same money is supposed to support two households instead of one. And this makes no mention of the fact that legal fees from the divorce, as well as the costs involved in reinventing new and separate households, can pretty much deplete any savings or weekly pay.
Are these dads deadbeat because they cannot pay? Many of the men in United States court ordered to pay child support, who do not, simply don’t have the means to do so. There is only so much blood that will come out of turnip. Even more disheartening is that even though the ability to financially support themselves and another house is nearly impossible many of these men are both willing and able to provide emotional and parental support to their children. Yet non-payment, and court ordered payments most often interfere with visitation rights of the father.
According to Dr. Phil, a highly recognized TV personality and psychologist, many men who don’t have custody of their children after a divorce, start spiraling downward into a cycle of depression. Faced with unreasonable financial obligations as well as greatly limited time with their children, these men (often labeled as deadbeat dads) get almost eliminated from the parental picture.
Certainly, there are men in this world who truly are deadbeat dads. Men who run on responsibilities and who don’t pay a dime toward their child’s raising. But many experts believe that this number is actually lower than expected. Many dads truly get the short end of the stick due to an outdated legal system that seems to still believe that men are unable to take care of their kids. There is a stigma in this world that needs to be reevaluated. While there are many men (and women) in this world who shrug responsibilities for their offspring, it is unfair to link ability to pay child support directly to whether a father is a deadbeat dad or not.
Laws need to change in both Canada in the US. While financial support is essential to the best interests of a child, even low-income dads, and dads who are having difficulty paying child support, have an integral part in their child’s life. Their presence is important too. Mothers, even those struggling financially and fighting with fathers who cannot or do not pay, should not be allowed to utilize the children as pawns for any gain. Too often, kids are bargaining chips and this too is unfair. Court systems need to make accurate assessments of a father’s ability to pay, and BOTH parents need to make accommodations to their household budgets to ensure that the kids get what they need, and that the parents are able to provide for themselves as well.
Perhaps before being so easily led to believe that a man is a dead beat, based on child support payments alone, we need to take a step back and reevaluate not only the importance of a fathers presence in his child’s life, but also a realistic look at his ability to provide excessive amounts of child support.
The best scenario, for the children, is for separated or divorced couples to act on what is best for the kids at all times. Rather than try to publicly slight one another, resort to name calling, or make the kids suffer because of financial troubles, they should find ways that both of them can move on with their lives, AND take care of the children together.