Deadbeat Dad Contest Bad for Kids

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On Oct. 1,
Michigan launched a new crackdown
on “deadbeats”
– noncustodial parents who are behind on paying
child support. The overwhelming majority of “deadbeats” are dads.

Custodial parents
cheered; father’s rights groups objected. Children were caught in
between. But Attorney General Mike
Cox
doesn’t seem concerned about keeping children as non-combatants
in the war between their parents.

In conjunction
with the website PayKids,
a site Cox established to track down deadbeats, Cox announced a
contest
in which children are to draw pictures “that clearly
convey the message of encouraging the payment of child support.”

The contest’s
prize: “The first 250 submissions will receive a $10 gift certificate
to Domino’s Pizza….And, the winner, will have their rendering
reproduced into a billboard in a prominent location…”

The contest
encourages custodial parents – who, it should be noted, are overwhelmingly
mothers – to discuss the issue with children and assist “in crafting
the message and visual representation.”

Radio host
and fathers’ rights activist Glenn
Sacks
comments, “[C]ustodial mothers are encouraged to coach
their children to make designs critical of noncustodial parents
behind on child support. And it doesn’t take much imagination to
figure out which noncustodial father many mothers will be encouraging
their children to denounce.”

Richard Farr,
founder of the family oriented KRights
Radio
, asks, “Are kids expected to draw pictures of so-called
‘deadbeat dads’ going to jail?… This contest and the billboards
[currently] dotting the Michigan landscape with imagery of jails,
handcuffs and conviction send a scary message to young children.
The contest should be called off immediately.”

When Mike Cox
took office in January 2003, he vowed to crack down on “deadbeats”
and established a Child
Support Division
. Prior to this, the Attorney General’s office
assumed no direct jurisdiction over the issue.

With aggressive
enforcement, the question of “when does it go too far” naturally
arises. With some voices calling for government to withdraw from
family matters altogether, Cox seems poised to become a poster boy
for government’s reckless disregard for children’s welfare.

A child is
half mother, half father. What emotional impact does it have on
children when a government official urges them to denounce half
of who they are? How will it impact a child’s relationship with
a noncustodial parent when his or her denunciation is posted for
the world to see? And if Cox lives up to the threat
posed
by the handcuffs portrayed on billboards – if he throws
a “deadbeat” parent in jail – will the child live forever with
a terrible guilt for having participated in that process?

When a divorce
lands in court, children should be insulated as much as possible
from adult decisions like alimony and support payments. They should
not be bribed with pizzas into becoming part of a legal enforcement
process against one parent.

Fathers’ rights
advocates quickly responded to the contest by directing outrage
toward Domino’s Pizza, the contest’s corporate sponsor. KRights
Radio spearheaded a boycott
campaign
; one father suggested the contest slogan “I
sold my dad for a Domino’s Pizza.”

Domino’s Pizza
responded with equal speed to the complaints that were pouring in.
Tim McIntyre, vice president of communications, informed Farr, “Domino’s
consumer web site, now contains
an open letter to all Domino’s customers, letting them know what
happened…It can be found on dominos.com through the weekend [10/10].”

McIntyre explained,
“We were not informed about this contest in advance, nor did we
endorse use of our company name in conjunction with it. We are…incensed
that this was done without our prior knowledge or consent… We
have asked the Attorney General to remove our brand name in association
with this contest, and have let him know that we are working actively
to distance the good name of Domino’s Pizza from this program.”

Calling Domino’s
withdrawal “an unprecedented move by a major international corporation,”
Farr expressed “respect” for the company.

Nevertheless,
he believes it is still “confused concerning issues of the child
support enforcement industry.”

If so, the
confusion is understandable. Government agencies have conducted
a concerted and nationwide campaign against “deadbeat dads,” which
has voiced only one side of the issue.

Consider Michigan’s
PayKids site. On the right
is a photo of smiling children; on the left, a list of “most wanted”
deadbeat dads with a changing photograph. (Although the word “parent”
is used, only men seem to be listed as “Wanted” or “Captured”; in
numerous visits, only men’s photos were displayed.) In between the
two is the photo of a smiling, hugging mother.

The nonprofit
PayKids Foundation was created by Cox in order to co-ordinate a
public awareness campaign about unpaid child support. But Farr believes
the whole PayKids initiative is based on “a false premise and erroneous
information.”

For example,
the top five “Most Wanted” are listed as owing from $224,000 to
$40,000 thousand in unpaid support. But Farr points to a Michigan
Family Independence Agency study that “showed 87 percent of arrearages
are owed by those earning less than $10,000 a year.” He claims “that
most parents who don’t pay child support are deadbroke, not deadbeat.”

Wherever truth
lies between these polar opposite views, it is difficult to see
how encouraging children to turn against their parents is a proper
government function.

October
14, 2004

Wendy
McElroy [send her mail] is
the editor of ifeminists.com
and a research fellow for The Independent Institute in Oakland,
Calif. She is the author and editor of many books and articles,
including the new book, Liberty
for Women: Freedom and Feminism in the 21st Century

(Ivan R. Dee/Independent Institute, 2002).

Wendy
McElroy Archives

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