No Stranger to Pain

“I can see that you’re no stranger to pain, Colonel,” the interrogator says to Richard Crenna, spoofing his role as Col. Trotman from Rambo in Hot Shots, Part Deux, "I've been married – twice,” he stoically replies. I can only assume that he pays child support. Here’s what I mean:

Michigan, my home state, is littered with billboards featuring a picture of a pair of handcuffs and the slogan, “We Don’t Treat Deadbeats With Kid Gloves,” courtesy of our Attorney General, Mike Cox. (See the billboard.) The State House Judiciary Committee held hearings on February 19, 2004 on HB 5369, which would make it a misdemeanor punishable by a one-year jail sentence and $2,000 fine for any child support payer (read: father) at least 90 days in arrears for an amount of up to $1,000. Owing over $1,000 for three years becomes a felony. (Admittedly, lots can happen between a committee hearing and final passage, too.) So what? you may ask. Parents should support their children, and deadbeats don’t deserve a break. I’ll agree with the first proposition, and explain why the second is a red herring.

Prior to “no-fault” divorce, which allows one party to terminate a contract (if not a covenant) pretty much at will, breaking up a marriage required a valid reason – adultery, abuse, or abandonment, as Dr. Laura puts it, or something of specific and comparable weight. Now, with 2/3 of divorce filings initiated by women, as Dr. Stephen Baskerville has documented, and a majority of those not being for the scarlet letters listed above, a man may well come home to a note on the door of an empty house, with loss of children and heavy debt to follow. Too bad, you may say: the kids are entitled to support. Yes, they are. How is it figured? By the “Income Shares” method, most commonly. This system calculates the cost of each child to the custodial parent (read: Mom) on a per-capita basis. This means that, for example, a single person may live in a studio apartment, but may need a two-bedroom apartment following the birth of a child. The real cost to the parent is not half of the rent for a two-bedroom apartment (per-capita) but rather the difference between the rent for a studio versus a two-bedroom apartment. The same calculus applies in other areas – do transportation costs double when a new parent installs a child car seat in their vehicle?

Child support so calculated tends, in the opinion of many researchers (See Weiss and Wood – Congressional testimony for an explanation) to be excessive, and seems to aim at keeping the kids at the standard of living that they enjoyed during the marriage. In reality, two households, paid for out of income that formerly supported one household, means that everyone’s standard of living should drop. (My position: the kids deserve from Dad the same standard of living that he has.) This excessive level of child support, like any other heavy debt, leads to delinquencies. What happens if Dad’s laid off, gets sick or injured? With men making up 95% of all workplace deaths, according to research cited by radio host Glenn Sacks and a correspondingly high percentage of disabling injuries, this is a real problem. Well, won’t the Friend of the Court lower the child support? No, 96% of the time, according to researcher Elaine Sorensen.

Well, they’re still your kids, right? You hope so, but according to the American Association of Blood Banks (see their Annual Report Summary 2001) 29.6% of men named on birth certificates cannot be the fathers of the children named. Now, if you, Mom and the milkman are all Type O, the test can tell you nothing, but if you are Type O, Mom is Type A and the baby is Type AB, it’s time to check the calendar for the dates of that business trip you took about nine months ago…

(If you’re in the military, you’re at higher risk for paternity fraud, since you may not know that you’ve been named as the father until you get a default judgment in the mail over in Baghdad, and in some jurisdictions, paternity is irreversible if not contested within a given timeframe, maybe only six months [see Glenn Sacks' column on veterans and paternity fraud].)

Won’t you get a fair shake at having the kids, if you’re the better parent? Don’t bet on it, if you’re male. You may be falsely accused of domestic violence or sexual abuse of the children, get hit with a “Personal Protection Order” or a restraining order, and not be able to go home or see your kids while you labor under the burden of the accusations leveled at you. The “tender years” or “the best interests of the child” legal doctrines biases the court in favor of giving Mom custody, even without her making false accusations. (Domestic violence victims are about as likely to be men as women, according to research cited by Glenn Sacks)

The above might lead a disinterested reader to conclude that the stereotype of Deadbeat Dad tooling around in his new Corvette with his trophy babe while Mom watches her income drop by three-quarters, as alleged, based on simple mathematical errors, by Lenore Weitzman (in her book, The Divorce Revolution) and debunked by Richard Peterson of the Social Science Research Council (see Christopher Rapp’s discussion of the issue) is false.

Where does all this leave us, Dear Reader? Back at the front door of your empty house, staring at that note, as your cell phone rings, with your lawyer on the line, telling you that you’ll be served with divorce papers, a PPO, and that Protective Services wants to talk to you about allegations that you abused the children (“Now just relax and tell me, Mr. Jones, have you ever given your 3 year old daughter a bath…alone?”). Not to worry, though; the kids won’t do without, because Mom emptied out the bank account beforehand (thoughtful, no?), and your lawyer will set up a payment plan, as long as those rumors about downsizing at your plant are just rumors, of course. You might get to see your little princess, someday, if you admit that you need therapy (Look how much she’s grown! Wonder where she got the blond hair from?) That assumes that Mom's steady stream of subtle put-downs don't foster Parental Alienation Syndrome (PAS), which manifests itself in once-loving children turning against the target (read: non-custodial) parent. And so what if you do fall behind? At least in the slammer you won’t have to pay rent, and you’ll get out someday, unless you end up like that dad in Milford, N.H., for whom child support became a death sentence (Dr. Baskerville again).

In closing, you may ask why this situation is allowed to continue. Quoting Cicero, Qui Bono? or, if you prefer Mark Scott, “Follow the money trail.” It leads to the Iron Triangle of the divorce industry: Family Courts, lawyers, and the social work system, with their array of allies, advocates, and hangers-on, who derive a comfortable living from the ongoing destruction of families (Dr. Baskerville, writing in Crisis – The Politics of Family Destruction – describes how the system perpetuates itself). Thanks to Public Choice theory, we know that government officials act in their own interest, just as do manufacturers, salespeople, and all the rest of society. From the Austrian perspective, we know that human action is impelled by the desire to remove felt uneasiness by means of a rational (to the actor) calculus of costs and benefits. If the child support industry, in an example of classic rent-seeking behavior, helps create conditions which favor marital breakup – no-fault divorce, the near-certainty of obtaining custody, an income stream, and the coercive means to extract it, then no one should be surprised if women choose to act in what they see as their own interest by leaving their husbands, while remaining married to his paycheck.

The human tragedy of epidemic divorce, and with it, all the social pathologies that follow, will continue until we adopt, over the anticipated objections of those who stand to lose the easy living they derive from the misery that they perpetuate, a divorce policy along these lines: If you want to run off with a chorus girl, go ahead – just leave your wallet with Momma. And if the milkman is making special deliveries, then the lovebirds can fill out your child support checks together. And in cases involving pregnancy outside of marriage, mandate DNA testing. (If you suspect the mailman, I'd recommend getting the results in person.)

I hope that the above serves to refute the notion that legions of cads are letting their tykes starve after leaving Mom in the lurch. What can you do about it? My advice to the single men in the audience is to join the “Marriage Strike”(see IFeminists author Wendy McElroy’s article on the Fox News website). At least this strike doesn't involve having to pay union dues!

February 21, 2004