Resources and reporting for mothers and others who think about social change.
get active
about mmo
mmo blog

Fathers' Fight by Sarah Werthan Buttenwieser

page four

The financial security of custodial parents

So, how much of a motivation is money in the fathers' rights movement? The 2002 United States Census report showed that poverty among custodial parents fell from thirty-three percent to twenty-three percent from the 1999 study, although the poverty rate remained about four times higher than for married families with similar aged children. The study also pointed out that the poverty rate for female custodial parents fell to twenty-five percent, while the poverty rate for male custodial parents was significantly lower at fourteen percent. According the Institute for Women's Policy Research, "women have made tremendous progress toward gaining economic equality during the last several decades. Nonetheless, throughout the United States, women earn less, are less likely to own a business, and are more likely to live in poverty than men. Disparities abound regionally and by state, and, even more profoundly, race and ethnicity continue to shape women's economic opportunities." Further, their most recent national study adds that even with continued economic gains for women at the rate that has occurred between 1989 and 2002, women would not achieve wage parity for over fifty years.

The Census report shows that an estimated fifty-nine percent of custodial parents had child support agreements, and of custodial parents receiving child support agreements, sixty-three percent were women, thirty-eight percent men. The proportion of custodial parents receiving full payments increased between 1993 and 2001, but the proportion of custodial parents receiving partial payments fell during that same time. Those custodial parents receiving full child support were less likely to be living in poverty. A correlation also existed between child support and visitation or custody agreements: the one was more likely to be received if the other was in place. In other words, child support remained an essential factor in preventing poverty among custodial parents, particularly mothers.

Disputing these findings are researchers like Sanford Braver, co-author of Divorced Dads: Shattering the Myths. With David Stockburger, Braver wrote the book The Law and Economics of Child Support Payments. Braver and others believe child support guidelines "have become tilted against non-custodial parents because they fail to consider the large tax benefits custodial parents enjoy, as well as non-custodial parents' child-related expenses." These researchers argue that this bias means that although a custodial parent may earn less money, the higher wage earning, non-custodial parent's lifestyle isn't better than the custodial parent's. Right wing commentator Glenn Sacks and family law attorney Jeffery Leving (whose web site is dadsrights.com) contest that these laws "often drive them (the fathers) into falling deeply into arrears."

Even for super-wealthy celebrities, child support conflates responsibility and willingness to pay. Sean P. Diddy Combs' recent response to being sued for higher child support payments underscores this. A man known for his own extravagance -- from big diamonds to big yachts -- he balked when the New York State Supreme Court's Appellate Division approved a child support increase from $5,000 to $21,782 per month to his ex-girlfriend, Misa Hylton-Brim, apparently the highest child support payment in state history. In an interview with The Associated Press, the hip-hop mogul called the case an attack on his character. "It's not about money. I don't care how much money I have," he said. "If you come at me and say I don't take care of my child, I'm going to take care of that to the end. I do take care of my child to my fullest, that's something that should be rewarded. It's not something that should be handled this way." He plans to appeal, because he says he already gives enough to his son.

As Attorney Jeff Wolf points out, if "shared custody" was the law, child support guidelines wouldn't apply. He believes the fathers' rights movement has taken a stand to cast the custody issue in terms of a values-based system, even if there is a huge hidden agenda that has to do with shirking child support obligations. "These fathers are busy talking about the value of having a father in order to improve moral development. They build up fears that children of divorce stray, although this is unproven. Those values -- moral development and importance of fathers --sound definitive. On the other side, the values-based argument for 'best interest of the child' remains harder to define neatly. Its message isn't that all children need a father, rather that all children need parents to focus on their needs. Parents emphasizing this value exhibit characteristics such as being open-minded, flexible and nurturing. The moral standard of such pragmatism is to ensure that stability is assured for the children, regardless of parental sacrifice. The fathers' rights movement doesn't address children's stability at all."

According to Wolf, that "best interest of the child" standard sounds legalistic, even though it's child-centered. He says, "Fathers' rights groups may not appeal to experts -- they are not trying to -- but legal services, experts, academics weigh in on the merits of supporting the child's best interests. The public and the legislature are less likely to be convinced by academics and judges. In order to prevail, mothers need to articulate a moral argument, rather than a response to the notion that fathers have rights."

In the intimate sphere of family, emotions run high, and most especially when the stories that convey betrayal -- from a person once loved -- are relayed. The fathers' rights movement is not monolithic. There are men making a considered, if one-sided point, about their sense of responsibility and their commitment to vie for meaningful involvement with their children. These men, like Ned Holstein, see their cases in terms of gender discrimination. However, they are unwilling to put children's needs and rights before theirs. Others in the fathers' rights movement are far less articulate and far angrier than Holstein is. Their postings can be found on various fathers' rights web sites (such as dadsnow.org). Blind rage fuels their involvement, stemming from the sense that the courts treated them unfairly during their divorce proceedings. Some, like Jason Hatch, haven't acted wholly above board or peacefully with their former spouses.

Given the formidable progress the fathers' rights movement has made -- perhaps especially possible in this particular political climate -- those putting children's best interests first have a great deal of work ahead. Mothers, fathers, and others protecting children need to band together. They have to take a play from Dennis Gac's handbook and find a way to go on the offense.

mmo : june 2005

Sarah Werthan Buttenwieser is a freelance journalist and regular contributor to the MMO. She lives in Western Massachusetts.

Related articles:

War of the wounds:
What's wrong with the father's rights movement

Commentary with more links to related reading and resources

By Judith Stadtman Tucker

In Commentary and Opinion:

Human Rights, Inhumanly Denied:
A Battered Mother's Story

"The family court system, with its phalanx of abuser-identified court personnel, is the ultimate abuser in the life of already abused mothers and children."
By Sonata

page | 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | print |

Reuse of content for publication or compensation by permission only.
© 2003-2008 The Mothers Movement Online.


The Mothers Movement Online