There’s an open thread over at The Wall Street Journal Community site trying to tackle the question, “Would ending child support make marriages last longer?” When I came upon the discussion, I was struck dumb, wondering how anyone could possibly think that was even an appropriate query to ponder. The obvious answer is, yes, ending child support would certainly make abusive marriages last longer. Is that something anyone wants to see happen?
A woman in an abusive relationship who has stopped working to raise her children and isn’t sure she can find suitable employment after leaving her husband would of course be reticent to walk away if she knew she wouldn’t have her husband’s financial help raising their children. In a marriage where both partners are employed and/or financially solvent and the divorce is amicable, child support is really a non-issue. After all, if two decent people who love their child(ren) are splitting simply because they’ve fallen out of love with one another, it follows that neither of them will have a problem doing right by their newly configured family.
So let’s focus on relationships, then, where a mother who has “opted-out” to raise a child is leaving a husband/partner who has grossly mistreated her. Let’s presume that the mother is awarded physical custody and the father is ordered to pay child support. Let’s further assume that this man has nothing but contempt for his victim who managed to get away, so he doesn’t want to pay child support. This happens every day. A man decides he shouldn’t have to pay child support because he doesn’t want to facilitate his ex’s life. (“Why should that &*+@^ get my money?”) But of course child support is child support – it’s not alimony. Child support is money that literally supports the life of a child – money both parents (while employed) are required to contribute.
According to the AFL-CIO, men are still paid on average 20% more than women for equal work. Given this salary paradigm, and considering that men and women are often not employed in commensurate fields (with the woman in a lower-paying job), men typically pay a larger percentage or amount of child support than women. One could argue that child support exists because “the wage gap costs the average full-time U.S. woman worker between $700,000 and $2 million over the course of her work life.” However, parents contribute child support based on their wages, and accordingly, if a child is residing with his or her mother and she makes more money than the child’s father, the mother is responsible to cover the larger portion of the child support. (Here’s a clear example of how child support percentages are determined in New York State.)
Often “Deadbeat Dads” who try to punish the mother of their child(ren) by withholding child support will masquerade around as if they deserve the Father of the Year award, taking their kid(s) out for ice cream once a month but failing to contribute to their school or medical expenses. What kind of father is that? (Answer: rhymes with pretty, is another word for poop.)
This topic hits close to home for me since not long ago, my ex decided to stop paying for my daughter’s childcare expenses, despite the fact that our opting-out agreement dictates that he should be responsible for those expenses until our child enters kindergarten. My bank account rapidly dwindling from covering daycare fees on my own, I decided to follow a good friend’s advice and enroll our child in kindergarten early, where she now spends her days happily reading, writing, drawing and learning science and math. (She even made me a beautiful Mother’s Day gift that I get teary just thinking about.) When I told my ex that he was violating the terms of our opting-out agreement by no longer covering our daughter’s childcare expenses, he simply said, “The gravy train stops here.” Proof that in his view, child support isn’t about caring for his child at all. It’s just another tool he (thinks) he can use to manipulate and hurt me. Which is why I plan to become so extraordinarily successful and wealthy that I’m able to place my ex-husband’s child support contribution – however minimal it may be – directly into a college fund for my daughter. That way, when she grows up she can send her father a note that reads, “Hey Dad, got you a Harvard sweatshirt. Think of it as a return on your investment.”
Despite the drama that’s been continually hurled at me since I extricated myself from an abusive marriage, I’ve maintained a cheery outlook, thanks to my friends (both old and new) and my incredible family. Because of their generosity and love, I’m able to keep things in proper perspective. (As I said to my mother yesterday, “Things with my ex may be bad now, but anything’s better than being married to him.”) Many women suffer and struggle through divorces with fewer helping hands, and some never find a way to get out. What women need is support. Child support, yes, but also emotional support from individuals and a society that lets them know they can get help when they need to get out. A woman without a dense support network might feel intimidated by a vengeful ex’s threats and not be able to stand up for her rights and the rights of her child. Living a quality life is the right of every child, and ensuring that right is each parent’s responsibility, no matter how they feel about the other. Child support is not a bargaining chip that should be used to tether women to unhappy lives. Paying child support should be a duty, an honor and a source of pride.
Ultimately, though, the reality is that men who don’t want to pay child support are not decent people, and if the WSJ’s concern is the moral imperative to create a society filled with lasting marriages, they’re asking the wrong – albeit a provocative – question. What we need to do as a society and as individual parents is to teach young girls how to avoid abusive relationships altogether, and avail boys with the opportunity to express themselves more fully, not just through anger and violence. We have to empower girls from birth through education and instill in them rugged self-esteem. We have to allow boys to cry and be vulnerable. We have to eradicate poverty. We have to destigmatize mental illness and find ways to heal personality disorders. We need to face the fact that our unbridled capitalist economy encourages narcissism and sociopathy. We need to put our smart phones down and pick our children up. We need to love and be loved, which will help accomplish everything I just mentioned. It’s easier said than done, but the secret to a lasting marriage doesn’t have anything to do with child support. I’m disgusted by the notion that one has to do with the other. “Would ending child support make marriages last longer?” is the kind of question only a financial paper would see fit to ask. I’m no business person, but I know from experience that when it comes to relationships, if you focus solely on the bottom line, you will fail in the end, both as a partner and a parent.
Source: Wall Street Journal
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