Archive for December, 2014
The Boston Globe – Dec. 13th, 2014
RUTH GRAHAM discusses one part of a much larger problem: a broken family law system (“Broke, but not deadbeat”). Graham’s focus on fathers who are poor is commendable. However, it misses the larger problem of one parent — usually the father — being driven out of the lives of his children because the laws, the courts, the lawyers, and the government all have a financial stake in extracting as much money as possible from the noncustodial parent, the best interests of the children be damned.
If both parents continued to be involved in their children’s lives, as numerous studies over several decades have shown to be best, it wouldn’t be nearly as lucrative for those other so-called stakeholders. The better solution, for parents who are rich, poor, or in between, is shared parenting, which should be a presumption, not a mandate, in every child custody action, even so-called preliminary rulings.
In 2004, 86 percent of Massachusetts voters supported a presumption of shared parenting in a nonbinding referendum, and yet the Legislature has ignored or blocked the issue year after year.
The solution: Take the profit out of the system, and stop urging parents to fight over sole custody. Even poor fathers are more likely to financially support their children if they are fully involved in their lives.Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( None so far )
Family Law Express December 1st, 2014 | Written By: Kay Dibben
Selfish separated parents who try to stop their children having a relationship with their former partners are having the kids taken off them by courts.
A judge recently took the “drastic step” of ordering that a girl, eight, who had lived with her mother since her parents separated when she was 13 months, instead live with her father.
Changing the child’s primary carer from the mother to the father was the only way the girl could have a meaningful relationship with both parents, Judge Evelyn Bender decided.
The mother had for years interfered with her daughter’s court-ordered time with her father, who did not see his child for months at a time.
“The mother tells (the child) that her father is going to take her away and not allow her to ever see her mother again,” Judge Bender said.
The anxious little girl had told a Court family consultant it was her dream to be able to “love Mummy and Daddy at the same time”.
Brisbane family law specialist Deborah Awyzio said it was only in extreme cases that a child was taken away from one parent and put in the care of the other.
“This is a warning that parents need to be child-focused in every parenting decision they make and not self-focused,” Ms Awyzio said.
“People think it is extreme when a child is removed from the carer they have been with, but the focus is on the child’s right to have a meaningful relationship with both parents.”
In the recent case the court heard the couple, who separated in 2007 after five years together, had been in ongoing litigation over their daughter’s living arrangements.
The court heard the mother’s unremitting campaign to undermine her child’s relationship with her father distressed the child, who loved both parents.
Judge Bender said if the girl lived with her father she would be “allowed to be a child”.
She gave the father sole responsibility for the child’s health and education and allowed the mother to spend time with the girl on alternate weeks and during holidays.Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( 2 so far )
Ann Schneible Nov 17, 2014
Children have the right to be raised by a mother and a father, Pope Francis said, emphasizing that “the family is the foundation of co-existence and a remedy against social fragmentation.”
The Pope made these remarks on Nov. 17 at the opening of the three-day international, interfaith colloquium entitled The Complementarity of Man and Woman, currently underway in the Vatican.Also referred to as the “Humanum” conference, the gathering is being sponsored by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, in collaboration with the Pontifical Council for the Family, the Pontifical Council for Inter-religious Dialogue, and the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of Christian Unity.
“To reflect upon ‘complementarity’ is nothing less than to ponder the dynamic harmonies at the heart of all creation,” he said. “All complementarities were made by our creator, so the author of harmony achieves this harmony.”
Complementarity, which is at the core of this gathering, “is a root of marriage and family,” the Pope said. “For the family grounded in marriage is the first school where we learn to appreciate our own and others’ gifts, and where we begin to acquire the arts of cooperative living.”
Although the family often leads to tensions – “egoism and altruism, reason and passion, immediate desires and long-range goals” – it also provides “frameworks for resolving such tensions.”
Pope Francis warned against confusing complementarity with the notion that “all the roles and relations of the two sexes are fixed in a single, static pattern.” Rather, he said, “complementarity will take many forms as each man and woman brings his or her distinctive contributions to their marriage and to the formation of their children – his or her personal richness, personal charisma.”
“Marriage and family are in crisis,” he said, with the “culture of the temporary” dissuading people from making the “public commitment” of marriage.
“This revolution in manners and morals has often flown the flag of freedom, but in fact it has brought spiritual and material devastation to countless human beings, especially the poorest and most vulnerable.”
Pope Francis noted the evidence pointing to the correlation between “the decline of marriage culture” and the increase of poverty and other “social ills”. It is women, children, and elderly persons who suffer the most from this crisis, he said.
The Pope likened the crisis in the family to threats against the environment. Although there has been a growing awareness of ecological concerns, mankind has “been slower to recognize that our fragile social environments are under threat as well, slower in our culture, and also in our Catholic Church.”
“We must foster a new human ecology,” he said.
“The family is the foundation of co-existence and a remedy against social fragmentation,” the Holy Father continued, stressing the importance of marriage in the raising of children.
“Children have a right to grow up in a family with a father and a mother capable of creating a suitable environment for the child’s development and emotional maturity,” he said.
Pope Francis encouraged the participants in the Colloquium to especially take account of young people. “Commit yourselves, so that our youth do not give themselves over to the poisonous environment of the temporary, but rather be revolutionaries with the courage to seek true and lasting love, going against the common pattern.”
He also warned against being moved by political agendas. “Family is an anthropological fact, he said, which cannot be qualified “based on ideological notions or concepts important only at one time in history.”
Pope Francis concluded his address by confirming his participation in the World Meeting of Families to take place in Philadelphia, USA, in 2015.
Following the Holy Father’s remarks, CDF Prefect and moderator of the colloquium’s opening sessions, Cardinal Gerhard Mueller, spoke at length on the central themes of the gathering.
At the core of the Colloquium which has gathered representatives from diverse religious traditions, is the question of the import of man and woman’s complementarity “for the relationship between the human person and God”.
Recounting the Genesis account of the earth’s creation, followed by that of man and woman, Cardinal Mueller said in his intervention the “difference between man and woman, both in the union of love and the generation of life, concerns God’s presence in the world.” It is man’s calling “to discover [this] in order to find a solid and lasting foundation and destiny for our life.”
“In sexual difference,” the cardinal went on, the man and the woman “can only understand him or herself in light of the other: the male needs the female to be understood, and the same is true for the female.”
It is therefore the the aim of the colloquium, Mueller concluded, “to explore the richness of sexual difference, its goodness, its character as gift, its openness to life, the path that opens up to God.”
Later that morning, keynote speaker Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks opened his intervention by telling “the story of the most beautiful idea in the history of civilization: the idea of the love that brings new life into the world. There are of course many ways of telling the story, and this is just one.”
The Rabbi explored the evolutionary development leading to the human family, from which emerged “the union of the biological mother and father to care for their child.” Then, with the development of cultures came the normalization of polygamy: “the ultimate expression of inequality because it means that
many males never get the chance to have a wife and child.”
“That is what makes the first chapter of Genesis so revolutionary,” he said, “with its statement that every human being, regardless of class, colour, culture or creed, is in the image and likeness of God himself.”
Rabbi Sacks spoke at length about the development of family within the Jewish tradition, noting how the Jews were “became an intensely family oriented people, and it was this that saved us from tragedy.”
From the destruction of the Temple in 70 A.D through centuries of persecution, he said, “Jews survived because they never lost three things: their sense of family, their sense of community and their faith.”
“Marriage and the family are where faith finds its home and where the Divine Presence lives in the love between husband and wife, parent and child,” he said.
In an interview with CNA, President for the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, Cardinal Kurt Koch, reflected on the fundamentals of complementarity, beginning with the first chapter of Genesis.
“We have this very beautiful idea, an image that the relationship between man and woman is an image of God,” he said. “In this sense, in the Catholic Church, the marriage between husband and wife is a Sacrament. This Sacramental issue is very important for us.”
Citing the interfaith character of the Colloquium, Cardinal Koch, who served as moderator for the afternoon sessions he stressed the need to give witness about complementarity “first of all in an ecumenical way.”
The chance to “give witness about family and marriage in an inter-religious dimension is a very beautiful opportunity,” he said.
David Quinn, director of the IONA institute and newspaper columnist, was among the participants in the colloquium. “The conference is obviously an extremely major international gathering about the importance of marriage between a man and a woman,” he told CNA.
“It’s probably the most significant gathering of its kind to date that’s been organized by the Church, and specifically by the CDF.”
“The loud and clear message for me,” Quinn said, “is the importance of the complementarity of men and women, and particularly the right of a child to be raised by their own mother and father whenever that is possible.”
Citing Ireland’s upcoming referendum on same-sex marriage, set to occur in 2015, Quinn said “this is obviously a loud and clear message that people need to hear. That the sexes are complimentary.”
“This is imbedded in the very nature of marriage itself. You deny the nature of marriage if you deny the importance of the complementarity of the sexes, and above all if you deny that mothers and fathers should raise children together.”
KUMAMOTO — Nov. 11th, 2014
Police in Takamori, Kumamoto Prefecture, said Monday they have arrested a 46-year-old man for abusing his one-year-old daughter after he forced her to sit on a kerosene heater, burning her legs and buttocks.
Police said the incident occurred late last month and identified the suspect as Hisao Fukuyama, who lives with his wife and three children.
Fukuyama was quoted by police as saying that he disciplined his daughter in front of the rest of the family because she wouldn’t do as she was told, NTV reported.
Meanwhile, local media reported Monday that Fukuyama’s wife consulted police last month about his abuse.
Japan TodayRead Full Post | Make a Comment ( None so far )
Even though the burden of cultural expectation still generally falls on mothers, fathers now spend almost five more hours on childcare each week than they did in 1965.
What scene comes to mind when you envision a dad left in charge of his kids for the day? Is it a room with fresh crayon marks all over the walls, kids with food-smeared faces—nothing short of general chaos? While those tropes might be funny, they probably aren’t all that accurate, especially nowadays, when more and more men are pitching in at home.
In fact, fathers now perform 4.6 more hours of childcare and 4.4 more hours of housework each week than they did in in 1965, according to a report from the White House Council of Economic Advisors. And dads say that involvement with responsibilities on the home front, particularly involving children, is increasingly important, as is finding a career and employer that will allow them to devote a significant portion of time to their family. In a study from the Boston College Center for Work and Family, 60 percent of the 1,029 fathers polled said that employer-provided, paid paternity or parental leave was important to them. This figure was significantly higher among younger men, with 93 percent of Millennial dads indicating that paid paternal leave was important to them.
Still, while opinions and priorities may have seen some cultural shifts, the balance between work and home is still a difficult one to strike. The vast majority of fathers surveyed for the Boston College study took only two weeks off for the arrival of a new baby, a period of time that correlated strongly with the amount of paid paternity or parental leave provided. When asked how much paternal leave they thought was appropriate, the majority of men said somewhere between two and four weeks, with younger dads erring towards longer leave. And some men choose not to take the maximum amount of time off from their jobs, fearing that they’ll fall too far behind, or be seen as less dedicated employees.
“I would be working just for someone else to watch my kids and it just didn’t make sense.”
While some fathers find themselves trying to create work schedules with additional flexibility, more fathers are assuming the role of primary caregiver. The number of stay-at-home dads has risen from 1.1 million in 1989 to 2.0 million in 2012, according to Pew. Why? For some fathers, they found themselves in the role due to circumstance: Temporary unemployment or disability can make dads the most logical option for childcare. But some fathers are home by choice, and because of a shift in labor dynamics as women reach higher educational and career attainment.
For Chris Tecala of Centerville, Virginia, who worked full-time in the audio visual field for a hospitality company, the question of who should stay home with the kids was an easy one to answer. “My salary equaled the cost of the yearly daycare of two, non potty-trained infants, which was about $40,000 a year,” he said. “I would be working just for someone else to watch my kids and it just didn’t make sense.”
According to Pew, 24 percent of married women earn more than their husbands. The study also found that for married couples with children, women were the primary breadwinners in 37 percent of households. As women earn more and seek higher positions in more competitive fields, the decision of who should leave work to care for a sick child, or stay home altogether, has become less clear.
Now Tecala, who stays home during the week to watch his twin two-year-old boys, strikes a balance by working part-time for the same company during the weekends. Even once his boys are old enough to attend school, Tecala says he plans on continuing with a part-time schedule so he can “be there for them every step of the way.”
The decision to remain active in the professional world, albeit in a scaled-back fashion, is fairly common, says Will Culp of the National At Home Dad Network, especially for those who plan to reenter the workforce after the kids get older.
Dan Baldwin, a stay-at-home dad from Baltimore says that his family’s decision to rely on him as the primary caregiver was driven partially by finances, but also because of the lack of schedule flexibility at his former job. Baldwin used about seven weeks of paid leave thanks to the Family and Medical Leave Act, but afterward, when he tried to discuss creating a more family-friendly schedule for his urban planning job, he said his employer offered up the equivalent of two days off per month. For his family, it simply wasn’t enough, he said.
So Baldwin stays home to care for his son, David. He says he plans on returning to the working world, once any children he and his wife may have are old enough to attend school, but even then, there will still be a focus on flexibility so he can do things like attend field trips and soccer matches. “I think that going into a new job, that would be one of the things I would look for—that would weigh heavily on my decision about where to end up,” he said.
“I think the bias against pro-paternity policies in the workplace starts with the notion that mothers are genetically better-suited for childcare,”
Though they are the primary caregivers in their families, both Tecala and Baldwin make sure to note how involved their wives, both employed full-time, are in child rearing. “By the end of the day when she gets home, I like to have that break,” Baldwin says. “She’ll feed him dinner, give him a bath, and put him to bed. And that’s when I’ll get some cleaning done.” Tecala describes a similar scene in his home.
But despite this scene of domestic bliss and cooperation, it still seems as if a large portion of Americans don’t see stay-at-home dads and stay-at-home moms in the same light. Another to Pew poll reported that, 51 percent of respondents felt that kids were better off with a mother who stayed home, and only 34 percent said that kids were just as well off if their mom worked. Those numbers change dramatically when you switch to the idea of a stay-at-home father. Only 8 percent of respondents said that children would be better off if their dad stayed home, while 76 percent said they’d be just as well off if their dad worked.
Culp says that these views, that deem that mothers are better suited to take care of the kids, contribute to flimsy pro-paternity leave policies at many organizations. “I think the bias against pro-paternity policies in the workplace starts with the notion that mothers are genetically better-suited for childcare,” he said. “As long as employers see involved fathers as an impediment to productivity, any change toward more progressive paternity leave policies will be met with resistance.”
While Baldwin and Tecala said that most people were positive about their decision to act as their child’s primary caregiver, both had stories of odd looks or curious reactions that they had gotten from strangers, mostly women. Tecala described a look of confusion that he gets occasionally when he carts his twin boys around the supermarket. I asked him if that type of reaction upset him. “At first it bothered me, but now I just kind of shrug it off and laugh,” he said. “I like to think that they’re just jealous that they don’t have a guy who’s willing to look after the kids like I am.”Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( None so far )
KAWASAKI — Nov. 14th, 2014
Police in Kawasaki, Kanagawa Prefecture, said Friday that a 35-year-old woman tried to hang herself after strangling her one-year-old son to death at their apartment.
The woman’s younger sister visited the apartment in Tama Ward just after 7 a.m. Thursday and found the bodies, TBS reported. Both mother and child were rushed to hospital where the boy died a short time later. The mother remains in a coma, police said.
A note was left next to the boy’s body, saying “I’m sorry.”
Police said the woman lived with her husband and son. Her husband had already left for work at the time of the incident, police said.
The mother’s sister said she had been suffering from depression and anxiety recently, TBS reported.Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( None so far )
OSAKA — Nov. 21st, 2014
Police in Ibaraki City, Osaka, have arrested a 22-year-old man and his 19-year-old wife for allegedly starving their 3-year-old daughter to death earlier this year.
Police said Yuki Kishimoto and his wife, who cannot be named because she is a minor, have denied the charge.
NTV reported that the couple began depriving their daughter Sayane of food in February, leaving her severely malnourished. Kishimoto called 119 on June 15 and said that Sayane had lost consciousness. She was taken to hospital where she died later.
An autopsy revealed bits of candle wax, aluminium foil and onion skin in the girl’s stomach. Doctors said she weighed only 8 kilograms, about half the weight of a normal child her age.
Police quoted the Kishimotos as saying they had not abused their child and that she had suddenly become very frail only days before her death. They also said Sayane suffered from a muscular disorder, congenital myopathy, since she was born, which they believe caused her death.
However, police said that while the hospital confirmed Sayane had the muscular disorder, the autopsy revealed malnutrition as the cause of death, NTV reported.
Media also reported that the medical examiner found numerous bruises and other marks indicating physical abuse on the Sayane’s body.
The couple also has a son but police said there were no signs that he had been abused.Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( None so far )
SAPPORO — Nov. 27th, 2014
Police in Sapporo have arrested a 26-year-old man for abusing his 4-month-old daughter during the summer.
According to police, Toshiyuki Miyamoto began beating his daughter Yuki sometime in July of this year. The abuse which included hitting her in the head and face, continued for almost a month, TV Asahi reported Wednesday.
Yuki was hospitalized serious head and brain injuries. Police said that on Aug 5, Yuki’s condition took a sudden turn for the worse and she began convulsing uncontrollably and fell unconscious. Miyamoto and his 22-year-old wife took their daughter to the hospital where nurses noticed signs of Yuki’s abuse and notified both the police and child protective services.
Yuki’s mother told police she never noticed abuse of any kind.
Miyamoto was quoted by police as saying he started beating his daughter everyday after he was forced to quit his job and remain at home, TV Asahi reported. He said the stress became too much.
Police said Yuki remains in a coma.Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( None so far )
HIROSHIMA — Dec. 4th, 2014
A 27-year-old woman has been arrested in Hiroshima for allegedly killing her newborn baby and then placing the body in a closet of her home.
According to police, Aoi Ota gave birth to a boy on the second floor of her home in Hiroshima on Nov 15, and then killed him by covering his mouth and nose.
TBS reported Thursday that although six people were living in the house, including Ota’s husband and both her parents and her brother, only Ota was present on the second floor at the time of the incident.
Police said Ota was arrested on Nov 20 for stealing about 100,000 yen from the store where she worked.
On the same day, Ota’s relative opened the closet and discovered the infant’s body inside, and then phoned police.
Police quoted Ota as saying that she did not kill her baby but she admitted to disposing of his body.
Ota’s husband told police he thought his wife had had a miscarriage.Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( None so far )
Dec. 5th, 2014 The Columbus Dispatch by Donald Hubin
Most people have a common-sense understanding that children are better off when both parents are fully involved in a child’s upbringing and care, but Ohio’s child-custody laws and court practices fail to recognize this obvious truth.
While Ohio isn’t the worst state in this regard, a recent study gives the state’s child-custody laws a C- when it comes to ensuring that both parents remain engaged with their children following divorce.
In a groundbreaking report published within the past month, National Parents Organization released its inaugural Shared Parenting Report Card, the nation’s first study to grade the states based on child-custody statutes. The report found that most states are performing poorly in terms of encouraging shared parenting and parental equality. The nation as a whole scored a 1.63 grade-point average, and Ohio is in the middle of the pack, receiving a C-.
These findings make it clear that Ohio legislators must act to raise the state’s grade for the benefit of our children, and legislators can get to work by addressing the fact that Ohio statutes:
• Contain no preference for or presumption of shared parenting.
• Do not explicitly provide for shared parenting during temporary orders.
• Do not mandate that a court award shared parenting even in a case where the court finds that the submitted shared parenting plan is in the best interest of the children.
• Have not been significantly revised in light of the 2001 recommendations of the task force set up by the Ohio legislature and the Ohio Supreme Court to recommend reforms to family law in Ohio.
The report’s examination of statutes in Ohio and elsewhere show it’s typical for one parent to be marginalized when parents separate. This happens routinely, even when both parents are fit and loving and want to be fully involved in their children’s lives. It happens because of obsolete laws and outdated assumptions about parents.
Is diminishing the role of one parent the unfortunate price we pay to promote the best interest of children? Some have thought so, but the evidence is against them. And the evidence is now overwhelming. Over the past three decades, there has been a growing consensus among social scientists that in the vast majority of cases, when parents separate, children are best off when their parents are equally involved.
Just this year, three different groups of child-development researchers and practitioners endorsed shared parenting in most circumstances. In one instance, a report by prominent psychologist Richard Warshak, titled “Social Science and Parenting Plans for Young Children: A Consensus Report” and published by the American Psychological Association, concluded that shared parenting should be the norm. The conclusions of this research were endorsed by 110 researchers and practitioners who added their names to the published paper — an extraordinary event in the social sciences.
Despite the weight of scientific evidence, shared parenting is in place just 17 percent of the time, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
There are many reasons why this harmful practice continues. Some judges seem not to have noticed that we are no longer living in theMad Men era, when mothers stayed at home with the children and fathers were relatively uninvolved in child rearing. Some parents see the decisions about raising their children after divorce as a contest where one parent wins and the other loses — losing sight of the fact that, in such a contest, children are the real losers. And our adversarial approach to divorce and custody disputes encourages this winner-take-all attitude. Some judges favor shared parenting in principle but will not order it unless both parents agree to it, thinking that if the parents cannot agree to shared parenting, they can’t cooperate under a shared parenting plan. However, the research proves this false.
While the causes of what some have described as ‘parent-ectomy’ are many, there is no doubt that legislatures share some of the responsibility. Across the country, and certainly in Ohio, legislators have a responsibility to make common-sense statutory changes that will better ensure that our children, regardless of whether their parents live together, experience a childhood filled with the love of both parents.
Donald Hubin, a professor emeritus at Ohio State University, is chairman of the Ohio Executive Committee and a member of the National Board of National Parents Organization and is one of the principal authors of the National Parents Organization 2014 Shared Parenting Report Card.Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( None so far )
Child support needs to catch up to reflect new roles for fathers, say experts
Dec. 5th, 2014 by Ruth Graham
ONE KIND OF FAMILY is the one in an old greeting-card picture: two parents, one or more kids, all under one roof.
But another kind of family has become more and more common over the last several decades. We tend to call it “single parenting,” but it is really better described as an unmarried mother and father living apart, their children, and the government whose laws regulate their relationship.
That set of laws is the child-support system, and it covers 17 million American children—about a quarter of them. But that system is nearly 40 years old, established during a different economy, and built on an old model where the mother was the caretaker and the father simply brought home the bacon. Today, a group of critics is saying the system needs an update, not only to be fair to adults but to avoid hurting the children whose interests it is supposed to serve.
These critics are particularly focused on the role of fathers, who make up the vast majority of noncustodial parents. Fathers are overwhelmingly the target of the current system’s narrow focus on collection and enforcement. And for middle-class and high-income men, it may make sense to require simply that they pay up or else.
But 29 percent of families in the system have income below the federal poverty line, and many more have great trouble making ends meet. Since the system was first put in place, out-of-wedlock births have become less stigmatized and more common, while devastating wage stagnation has hit male workers. As a result, there are legions of low-income fathers far less able to hold up their end of the deal. They may find themselves unable to pay child support, and yet caught in a system that expects nothing else from them.
“Child support is a remnant of the days when we used to think that dads didn’t matter,” said Kathryn Edin, a sociologist at Johns Hopkins University who has spent years researching the ways poor American men cope with unmarried parenting. “With our right hand we’ve pushed these men away; we’ve said, ‘You’re worthless.’ With our left hand we’re picking his pocket….That’s how it feels to him.”
Today, Edin is one of a growing number of academics and policy makers looking at struggling families in the 21st century and concluding that the child-support system needs to do better. They envision a system that would more closely link providing and parenting, and would take a more pragmatic view toward the ability of disenfranchised men to come up with money they simply don’t have, while still benefiting the children the system is designed to serve. What exactly would that look like—and what would it take to make it a reality?
If forced to choose between child-support payments and buying diapers and winter coats, many fathers will go for the option that looks more like parenting than taxation.
THE CHILD-SUPPORT SYSTEM as we know it dates to the 1970s. It was originally a bipartisan policy reform, designed primarily to serve a population of parents who were divorced and steadily employed. Divorce meant there had been a marriage in the first place, and that custody agreements had likely been worked out. Steady employment meant the system could garnish wages directly from a parent’s paycheck if necessary.
Today, however, the lives of many low-income parents look dramatically different. Marriage rates among the poor have plummeted, so there often is no divorce to provide a formal structure for parents’ responsibilities. And employment prospects for men with low education are dismal. “We have a 1970s narrative about a 2010s reality,” Edin said.
A central character in that narrative is the “deadbeat dad,” a figure who emerged in American culture in the 1980s. One moment served as a catalyst: In 1986, Bill Moyers interviewed a New Jersey father of six named Timothy McSeed for a CBS report titled “The Vanishing Family: Crisis in Black America.” McSeed bragged on camera about his “strong sperm,” and cheerfully admitted he didn’t support any of his children financially because “I’m not doing what the government does.” Editorial columnists seized on the shocking interview, and the segment went viral in a time when that meant more than a few easy clicks: Requests for the tape poured into CBS, including an order for all 7,500 schools in the California public school system. CBS News said it was the largest-ever demand for one of its products.
With this cartoonish bogeyman looming over the cultural and political landscape, the child-support system focused on collection and enforcement. Shortly afterward, Congress passed a law forcing states to be stricter about collecting past child-support debts. The approach was bolstered intellectually by a 1979 book by a University of Michigan law professor, “Making Fathers Pay,” which argued that aggressive enforcement measures, including incarceration, could corral deadbeats into complying with child-support orders. In 1996, President Clinton’s welfare reform act again strengthened the government’s enforcement powers against noncustodial parents.
There have always been, and will always be, some fathers who are not interested in fathering, and who would never help out if the law didn’t force them to. But recent research by sociologists and others who work with low-income fathers suggests that is far from typical. For their poignant 2013 book “Doing the Best I Can: Fatherhood in the Inner City,” Edin and coauthor Timothy Nelson conducted wide-ranging interviews with 110 low-income fathers in and around Philadelphia over the course of seven years. They found the majority of men were thrilled to become fathers, even though the pregnancies were rarely planned and their romantic relationships and employment situations were often unstable.
Overwhelmingly, Edin and other sociologists have reported, 21st-century fathers do intend to provide for their children. Many of them fail, in the financial sense. But what Edin found, encouragingly, is that with few opportunities to succeed financially, many have crafted new definitions of what exactly it means to be a good father: emotional availability, consistent commitment, and direct fulfillment of their children’s concrete needs and desires. As one father told Edin, “That’s what kept me going in prison, knowing that I had to come out and be there for them.” Although low-income fathers remain much less studied than mothers, other researchers have found similar enthusiasm for parenting. In her 2002 book, “My Baby’s Father: Unmarried Parents and Paternal Responsibility,” Maureen Waller, an associate professor of policy analysis and management at Cornell University, interviewed both men and women who agreed that a father’s economic support was necessary but insufficient to qualify him as a good parent.
If forced to choose between child-support payments and buying diapers and winter coats, many fathers will go for the option that looks more like parenting than taxation. That may be particularly true in cases where a mother is on welfare, because then the father’s child-support payment typically goes directly to the state, sometimes with a token amount “passed through” to the mother and child. “Dads talk about that conundrum,” said Ronald Mincy, a professor of social work at Columbia University and coauthor of the forthcoming book “Failing Our Fathers: Confronting the Crisis of Economically Vulnerable Nonresident Fathers.” “They have to choose between meeting the formal order on the one hand and meeting the child’s informal needs.” If they choose the latter, they become “deadbeats” in the eyes of the law.
Yet researchers say that both mothers and fathers tend to prefer informal agreements, all things considered. If their relationship crumbles—trust is often low to begin with—or if the father gets distracted by a new family, informal agreements can disintegrate, so the formal child-support system is a crucial safety net for mothers and children. But it’s also a system that can alienate fathers from their children, sometimes by literally putting them in jail. Even the burden of debt can be enough to drive a wedge: Waller’s ongoing research suggests that men with outstanding child-support debts have less contact and involvement with their children.
Though mothers undoubtedly have benefited from the child-support system, there’s also a case to be made that they are its victims in a way, too. Unlike parents themselves, the formal system assumes that the custodial parent is the only one with real authority. “If we give in to the notion that the mom ‘owns’ the child, if that’s the default position, then the mom is also responsible for the child,” Edin said. “Moms just end up holding the bag for everything, and men are cast out of society. That is a very bad deal for women.”
OVER THE YEARS, the child support system has improved in one measurable way: enforcement. “The reach of the child-support program, it’s stronger than the IRS in some ways,” said Jessica Pearson, who directs the Center for Policy Research and has been studying child-support policy since the 1980s. The Federal Parent Locator Service draws on national databases to track down noncustodial parents and enforce payments; in fiscal year 2013, state (and tribal) programs collected $32 billion in child support, and the amount distributed has been steadily rising for years.
That’s good news for the families who have received this money. But more than $100 billion in child-support payments are still in arrears, and research suggests that most of that is essentially uncollectible because the fathers simply do not have the money. (About a quarter of that money is owed to the government.)
Would a more enlightened system—one focused less on enforcement, and more on involvement—do a better job of keeping eager fathers involved with their children? If so, it would mean broadening the state’s approach from one that is primarily punitive to one that works with fathers, presuming that most of them want to be good parents.
Some small signs of progress seem to be on the horizon. Last month, the federal Office of Child Support Enforcement began circulating a 41-page list of proposed new regulations to modernize the child-support program. (Child support programs are administered by states, but the federal government influences state policy and how it is implemented.) The new rules would make changes like allowing states to spend federal child-support dollars on employment and training programs for fathers. Crucially, they also encourage states to take into account a man’s basic cost of living before making child-support calculations.
Scholars who work with low-income families all have their own favorite ways they would like to see the system change. Waller mentions limiting retroactive debts and revising policies on how states handle interest payments. Mincy would like to see the Earned Income Tax Credit extended more generously to noncustodial parents. Job training for fathers is another big focus: Small studies in New York and Texas have shown that if the state provides training for men who haven’t been able to pay child support, they are likelier to begin to comply. And almost everyone laments the fact that some states treat incarceration as “voluntary unemployment,” so child-support debts often balloon while men are in prison.
Experts also have ambitious ideas about how the system could help incorporate fathers into the lives of their children. Some would like to connect child-support and visitation agreements for never-married parents, the way that divorce court does. Some jurisdictions have experimented with versions of “coparenting court” to help unmarried parents negotiate a more complex agreement that covers more than just check-writing.
And language matters, too. Edin bemoans the widespread use of the term “single mother,” and the way that many government poverty programs are oriented solely around mothers and children. In fact, mothers who are truly single are vanishingly rare: In one way or another, fathers and boyfriends are almost always integral parts of the picture, and those relationships are assets we would do better to strengthen than ignore. She’d like to see researchers and policy makers adopt another phrase, one she hopes would remind us how many lives are at stake in all these arrangements. The term she prefers: “Complex fragile family.”
Ruth Graham, a writer in New Hampshire, is a regular contributor to Ideas.Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( None so far )