Los Angeles Times Misses the Obvious in Child Custody, Support Data

November 22, 2013 by Robert Franklin, Esq.

Since the new Census Bureau data on custody and child support just came out, it must be time for the mainstream press to start channeling public opinion on those matters in the preferred direction, i.e. pro-mother/anti-father. Here’s one example (Los Angeles Times, 11/20/13).

The piece was written by Emily Alpert Reyes and she’s to be commended for getting her facts right. Indeed, everything she states is borne out by the Census Bureau’s report entitled “Custodial Mothers and Fathers and their Child Support: 2011,” about which I posted here. But it’s the many, many things she left out that give the article its slant; that, plus a couple of well-placed gendered terms.

To her credit, Reyes mentions an important item in the Census Bureau’s report that I neglected to deal with.

Between 1994 and 2012, the number of parents who sought such help fell by about a quarter, even though Census Bureau data show relatively little change in the number of parents getting all the money they are owed. Scholars and advocates believe some parents have given up trying.

Good point, even though it’s rather obvious implications go unmentioned by Reyes. How can she cite the facts that (a) 25% fewer people now contact enforcement authorities than in 1994 and (b) there’s been essentially no change in the rate of collections, but not connect those dots. There’s a clear disconnect between custodial parents seeking help from the child support enforcement system and the amount they’re paid. That strongly suggests that the system isn’t very good at producing results.

Had Reyes consulted the actual report, she might have noticed, as I did, that, for the 18 years studied, there had been essentially no change in the percentage of custodial parents receiving all, some or none of the support due. The only changes year to year reflect the state of the economy more than any other factor. That’s true despite the increasingly harsh methods used by state enforcement authorities to make non-custodial parents pay.

So one thing Reyes might have noticed is that child support enforcement mechanisms may just be a lot of tax money spent for minimal results. But she didn’t.

What she also failed to register is the fact that, in every category for which the Census Bureau publishes data, non-custodial fathers do a better job than non-custodial mothers at supporting their children. As would be obvious to anyone who read the report, fathers pay more of what they owe, are more likely to pay all of what they owe, pay a higher percentage when they pay part of what they owe and are less likely to not pay at all. That’s true despite the fact that mothers are only half as likely as fathers to be ordered by a court to pay support.

If either sex can be labelled a “deadbeat,” it’s mothers who win the title hands-down. But Reyes is too busy promoting the idea that child support arrearages are all about perfidious fathers to notice. She does that by beginning her piece with the fact that there’s about $14 billion due and owing by non-custodial parents and then hastens to quote an expert thus:

“Increasingly, for the poorest single women, it’s harder to access the system,” said Malcolm Smith, an extension professor at the University of New Hampshire.

Reyes finishes her piece with a quotation from a child support activist saying “That is the way you prevent these guys from falling behind.” In short, despite the fact that non-custodial mothers are worse than fathers about supporting their children, in Reyes’ piece, you don’t meet a single reference to them or their record of payments. The only deadbeats are dads; the only ones victimized by a heartless system are moms.

What conclusion could a reader draw but that it’s fathers who aren’t supporting their children?

Nor does Reyes mention that fact, emphasized by the Census Bureau’s authors, that custodial fathers have substantially more in financial resources to care for their kids than do custodial mothers. That’s true of course despite the fact that they receive less money from those mothers than custodial mothers do from fathers. As elsewhere in society, men work more and earn more than women. But Reyes never lets on about the profound differences in children’s well-being that income can mean, despite the fact that it’s long been reported by the social science on what contributes to children’s welfare.

If read fairly, the Census Bureau figures offer strong arguments for fathers having custody more than mothers. They also make it clear that non-custodial fathers have a significantly better track record of supporting their children than do non-custodial mothers. And finally they strongly suggest that the vast and expensive enforcement apparatus, that annually sucks some $5 billion from the national treasury, has little to show for its efforts.

But those are all facts that won’t be part of the national debate on child custody and support either in the LA Times or elsewhere. That’s because they contradict cherished notions about mothers and fathers that this culture finds difficult to abandon, regardless of the facts.

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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