Huffington Post Wrong on Child Support and Shared Parenting

December 31, 2015 by Robert Franklin, Esq, Member, National Board of Directors, National Parents Organization

The Huffington Post is reliably one of the least informed publications on the planet when it comes to reporting on family law issues. This article is a good example (Huffington Post, 12/17/15).

Of course much of the problem with HuffPo stems from its anti-father bias. One of the major problems with any form of bias is ignorance. Bias and prejudice are almost always based to a great degree on significant lack of knowledge about the subject in question. So, as in so many other areas of inquiry, to be anti-dad is to be ignorant of fathers. Such is Huffington Post.

Now, the linked-to article mostly uses gender-neutral terms like “parent” instead of “fathers” or “mothers,” but the example the writer uses to begin her piece is of a father. Predictably, he’s a bad dad, and in that way readers are encouraged to believe that the writer’s subject applies mostly (or exclusively) to fathers. Hey, it’s HuffPo.

The writer is Susan Sommercamp and her subject is parents who sometimes consider how the amount of child support will be affected by the amount of time they spend with their child post-divorce. It’s one of the standard and untrue arguments used by the anti-dad crowd to oppose shared parenting that fathers only want to see their kids because doing so will reduce how much they have to pay Mom. The claim has been debunked many times, but, since all arguments against shared parenting have been debunked, those opposed to children having real relationships with their dads trot it out anyway. They don’t have real bullets, so they just keep shooting blanks.

So Sommercamp is providing a valuable service to those who don’t believe children need their dads.

I recall my first week on the job [in the “child support field”], talking to a father about his child support payment calculation. When he realized that custody/visitation is one of the factors determining the amount of one’s child support payment, he took pause. And grinned.

"So, you mean, if I have my son more often, the amount I pay monthly will go down?"

Naively, I was completely stunned.

The rest of the article is a rehash of the same: some parents see children in monetary terms and not as real flesh-and-blood people; Sommercamp is shocked. That’s the article. She really has nothing more to say.

The major problem of course is that it never occurs to Sommercamp that custodial parents, (82% of whom are mothers) might be similarly motivated.

The disconnect for me is the mind-blowing concept of correlating dollar signs with time spent with one’s own child and choosing to have more custody solely in order to pay out less to the other parent. To make that leap cheapens the relationship. A price cannot be put on the child or the bond as the parent-child relationship is priceless.

See what I mean? In her world, the only ones thinking of money are those who seek to “pay out less to the other parent.” That of course would be fathers, since they’re 82% of those who “pay out.” Do parents who receive child support seek greater custody because, if they do, they’ll receive more money from the non-custodial parent?

It would be odd if they didn’t. After all, if non-custodial parents are motivated partly by the amount of child support to be paid, why wouldn’t custodial parents be motivated by the amount to be received? The reasonable answer is that each type of parent is similarly motivated, but nowhere does Sommercamp mention the fact. She’s content to allow readers to believe that dads, perfidious creatures that they are, think only of money.

What about the recent history of child support law? Back in the 1980s, feminists aggressively put forward the notion that custodial mothers were being forced to live in poverty because the fathers of their children weren’t paying enough. Researcher Lenore Weizman did the heavy lifting to promote changes to child support law to ensure that mothers got paid more. Her study that spurred lawmakers to make those changes was soon revealed to be false. Weizman claimed that custodial mothers saw a decline of 76% in their incomes post-divorce when the actual figure was 24%. Ten years after the fact, and long after the legislative changes, Weizman admitted her error, but the entire event strongly suggests just who is more likely to view children in monetary terms.

Most importantly though, Sommercamp neglects to mention why parents – whether custodial or not – might be encouraged to consider what their children mean financially. Having worked “in the child support field,” you’d think she’d have noticed that who really cares about money are our state and federal governments and their many, many employees.

Face it, the Office of Child Support Enforcement is a multi-billion dollar agency whose sole interest is how much child support is being paid and the more the better. To them, that’s exactly what kids are – a proxy for money. And of course if that weren’t true, many thousands of people throughout the country would be out of a job.

Of course the converse is also true; the aspect of child custody that doesn’t involve the transfer of money from one parent to the other – visitation – is all but ignored by federal and state governments. The OCSE spends $5 billion a year to enforce child support orders but only $10 million to enforce visitation, a 500:1 ratio. And, while custodial parents seeking child support have an army of lawyers at their beck and call, non-custodial parents who try to enforce visitation orders must pay for their own legal representation, something few of them can manage.

So again, who is it who looks at a child and sees a dollar sign? With federal and state officials and federal and state laws so obviously valuing money over access, what’s a parent to conclude if not that, whether you’re a custodial or non-custodial parent, money is the name of the game?

Sommercamp of course thought of none of this, however obvious it may be.

Then there’s the blatant anti-male sexism of the system of child support. Does Sommercamp know that, while about 54% of non-custodial fathers are subject to a child support order, only 28% of non-custodial mothers are? That’s according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Meanwhile, according to researchers Eleanor Maccoby and Robert Mnookin, in shared custody cases, 70% of fathers were ordered to pay support but only 1% of mothers were. They termed that “gender effect” to be “striking.” Another striking gender effect involved parents in joint custody arrangements in which the mother earned more than the father. In 76% of those cases, Dad still had to pay Mom.

The point being that, in the single instance Sommercamp describes of a father wanting more time with his kid in order to lower his child support payments, he may have simply felt doing so to be a way to somewhat even the odds against him. The system of divorce and custody is well known by dads to value him mostly and often exclusively as a source of cash to his ex. Can we really blame him for responding in kind?

Finally, there’s the little matter of hundreds of thousands of years of human evolution. During essentially all that time, men have played the role of provider for their families, their clans, their tribes. For eons, women have chosen men as partners in large part because of their ability to bring home the bacon. Is it any wonder then that women still often look to men for that same reason? And is it any wonder that, when a woman divorces a man and takes his children, he feels the need to cast off that role?

All that makes sense. Sommercamp’s article isn’t about making sense, but about tarring fathers with yet another scurrilous allegation.


National Parents Organization is a Shared Parenting Organization

National Parents Organization is a non-profit that educates the public, families, educators, and legislators about the importance of shared parenting and how it can reduce conflict in children, parents, and extended families. Along with Shared Parenting we advocate for fair Child Support and Alimony Legislation. Want to get involved?  Here’s how:

Together, we can drive home the family, child development, social and national benefits of shared parenting, and fair child support and alimony. Thank you for your activism.

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