Conflicts of Interest: Child Support – The Man’s Point of View
Last week, Dr. J wrote a post on the New NYC Teen Pregnancy Prevention Ads. At some point during the day, a debate on the role of child support erupted in the comment section. In reading these comments, I realized very quickly that men and women have very different views on the role of child support, the fairness of child support (laws and calculations), and what child support does cover or should cover. Although this was an interesting topic, since I have no firsthand experience with child support, I solicited an open call on Twitter (@WisdomIsMisery) to see if any men or women would be willing to share their experience, views, opinions, and trials and tribulations with child support. Two writers, a man and a woman, volunteered. While I wanted their pieces to be original, I asked them to, at minimum, address four questions:
- What do you think child support is “for?”
- Is it fair?
- What are some issues you face as a man/woman?
- What, if anything, would you change about the process?
The Man’s Perspective on Child Support
I love my son.
It is important that this sentiment is clearly stated and understood from the very beginning; if you are a man and do not yet have a son, there are no words that can accurately describe the feeling in its entirety. It’s like looking into a funhouse mirror that allows me to see into my own past, when I was innocent and untainted by the many hard lessons life has taught me thus far.
My son’s mother (I refuse to use the term “baby mama”) and I are not together; the story of why is long and sordid enough for a column all its own, so I’ll spare you the details. Suffice it to say that no relationship manifested, but she decided to have our child, whom we both love unconditionally. It was made clear from the “I’m pregnant and I’m keeping it” conversation that we would not be together, but I would be active in my child’s life and I wanted 50/50 custody. I attended doctor’s appointments, was there when her water broke, drove her to the hospital and, due to a cesarean, was the first parent to hold my child. From there, things have gone spectacularly awry.
This leads me to the actual subject of this “opinion”: child support. As a progressive thinking male, I have a love/hate relationship with the institution. While I do immensely support the notion that it is the responsibility of a man to take care of any and all children he sires, there are far too many issues with existing child support law for me to be, well, supportive of it. The current laws do not account for many factors that can result in what any man would call at best a terrible inconvenience, and at worst, an absolute horror story.
Most people know of at least one situation amongst their friends or family in which a man is paying child support. Sometimes the system gets it right; the amount is fair and the child benefits properly from both the financial support and the regular presence of a man doing his best to take responsibility for bringing up his child. These clear-cut instances are not the stuff of which a man’s nightmares are made of when he’s deciding whether or not he “likes it raw” with a partner.
It’s the seedy underbelly, the worst case scenarios, the spirit-crushing vindictive nature of some women, combined with the random incompetence of the legal system that makes a brother wake up in a cold sweat with the voice of some ratchet echoing in his ears, endlessly dragging out his name like…
“That ain’t even my NAME…”
For an extreme example, there is the story of Francisco Rodriguez, a Florida man who in 2007 found out he owed over $10,000 in back child support for a 15 year old daughter of whom he never knew; a monthly payment of $305 was established, putting an intense strain on his finances considering that he was now married with two daughters and a son from his wife’s previous marriage to care for; he even had to spend a night in jail over nonpayment. Standing in court with DNA results stating he was not the father – along with a signed affidavit from the girl’s mother, a former girlfriend of his circa 1990, asking that his child support responsibility be removed – Rodriguez was essentially told “tough luck, bruh”. There was a deadline to legally contest paternity, and because he had moved several times in the past few years, he never received the paperwork.
A bright light appeared at the end of the tunnel though, and the judge ordered a court-sanctioned DNA test. Mr. Rodriguez of course showed up (more than likely EARLY) to get the situation rectified; the girl and her mother did NOT show up for the appointment to submit to the testing, and at the time of the article, it was unclear if she had yet complied.
Damn, DAMN, DAAAAAAAAAAAMN!!!!
Check out page two for more cautionary tales and the author’s personal plan on how he will address his child support obligations.
For me, these situations caricature the extreme difference between how men and women may view “child support.” From the male perspective, the institution MEANS well, but has the potential to fall well short of the intended goal of providing mandated financial assistance in the event that some sorry excuse for a man decides to shirk the responsibilities that come with being irresponsible about whom he decides to “repaint the interior of”. I won’t seek to expound upon the female perspective, but let’s just say it’s rather telling that a woman wouldn’t even show up with her child to help absolve responsibility for the man whose life she financially ruined. After all, the fiscal well-being of him, his wife, and children aren’t her responsibility, right?
In 2002, an Atlanta man named Carnell Smith took his case as far as the Supreme Court; after ten years of paying $375 a month in child support (that’s roughly $45,000 for the mathematically challenged), his [alleged?] daughter’s mother demanded an increase to around $1000 per month. Since DNA testing had become less expensive by that time, Smith decided to have one done. Lo and behold, he was NOT the father.
Cue the Maury Povich music and obligatory dance of exuberance.
Unfortunately, the courts determined that because he hadn’t had the test done ten years earlier, he was still on the hook for that car-note sized child support payment. The mother stated that since he wasn’t the father she no longer wanted his money, but the court order still stood.
Mr. Smith became a rights advocate, founding Citizens Against Paternity Fraud, and spearheaded the state of Georgia’s first paternity fraud legislation.
“Paternity fraud.” The fact that such a phrase even EXISTS can make a man wish that the FDA would fast-track approval of this male birth control injection that’s been practiced in India for the last few years. Just ask Frank Hatley, a 50 year old homeless man who in 2009 was released from jail after a YEAR due to failure to make child support payments on a child that was proved wasn’t his in 2000. You read that correctly; eight years AFTER paternity was invalidated, he was jailed for a YEAR for back payments from the previous MILLENIUM.
Paternity fraud isn’t the only issue that the child support institution has; sometimes the way it’s calculated simply isn’t fair. Imagine that your ex ended up with custody of your two children in a divorce; you’re ordered to pay $500 per month in child support, but you only make $26,000 annually (Editor’s Note: In 2010, the most recent census data available, the average American only made $26,364 annually). You try to contest it and have the amount reduced, but you lose the case and are ordered to pay not only the $500 per month, but also $1000 for your ex’s attorney fees. You’re unable to come up with the money, so the court has no choice but to find you in contempt and throw you in jail. This exact scenario happens to men in the United States every single day without so much as an eyelash batted by a court judge, but it was important enough to make the newspaper in Charleston, South Carolina. Why? Because in this rare instance, the individual thrown in jail just so happened to be a woman.
I love my son.
With paternity test in hand and every intention of paying whatever child support the state mandates, I am prepared to walk into a courtroom, look the judge in the eye and say proudly that I want to split custody 50/50, pay the necessary mandates and have it in writing what days I’m to have my son as set by law. I welcome the responsibility of caring for him, teaching him all that I’ve learned and raising him to be a better man than I or any that came before me. Part of me prays that legislators will take a hard look at child support law so that stories resembling the ones I’ve discussed here become folklore and old wives’ (or husbands’) tales in the future; the other part of me prays that the male birth control injection is approved by the FDA in time for my son’s 14th birthday.
About the Author: The writer of this content, Freon Phelps, is available at his email [email protected] for additional information or writing opportunities.
Now we turn it over to you SBM: 1) What do you think child support is “for?” 2) Is child support fair? 3) What are some issues you face as a man/woman? 4) What, if anything, would you change about the process?
If you’re on Twitter, please participate in our #SBMQOD:
#SBMQOD: Should a man who doesn’t (or can’t) pay child support still be allowed to see his kid(s)?
— The SBM Media Group (@SingleBlackMale) March 18, 2013