NPO in the media

New York Times Chides Fathers & Families over Child Support Lawsuit; Holstein Responds

February 11, 2009

“[M]en improve their standard of living after a divorce while women sacrifice theirs. This is true in all divorces…”

New York Times writer Lisa Belkin chided Fathers & Families in a recent column, contrasting F & F’s recent child support lawsuit with her view that “men improve their standard of living after a divorce while women sacrifice theirs.”

In Who ‘Wins” in a Divorce, Mom or Dad?, Belkin writes:

Child custody and balance of parenting power post-divorce have been in the news around the world lately. Everywhere it is messy, and everywhere parents seem certain that the other gender is getting the better deal.

In Great Britain, the Institute for Social and Economic Research released a study last month called “Marital Splits and Income Changes Over the Longer Term.’ The first of its kind in the country, it showed what similar studies in the U.S. have concluded over the years — that men improve their standard of living after a divorce while women sacrifice theirs. This is true in all divorces, but particularly striking when the couple has children, because the children are more likely to live with their mothers, who earn less than their ex-husbands and pay more child care expenses…

And over in Massachusetts, new guidelines were adopted on Jan. 1 that will raise the amount paid by non-custodial parents, who are usually fathers. A Boston-based advocacy organization, Fathers & Families, responded with a lawsuit charging that the changes are excessive.

In an article analyzing the changes on the website of Psychology Today, writer Paul Raeburn concludes that in this debate, as in nearly every other surrounding divorce, child support guidelines often seem, to fathers, to be unrealistically high, and to others, unrealistically low.

Dr. Ned Holstein, MD, MS, founder of Fathers & Families, wrote Belkin:

The biggest problem with your blog post is that it is all about money and has nothing to say about the heart. How can you put a value on the de facto loss of children suffered by most divorcing husbands? This does not even enter into your thinking.

As to the money, everyone knows that after a divorce, she lives in the house and he lives in an apartment, or on his sister”s couch. Contrary to your assertion about the uniformity of research results about the money, researcher Sanford Braver concluded a few years ago, “….our results suggest that under current child support guidelines, the majority of custodial parents currently have higher standards of living than their matched non-custodial parents, dramatically so in Massachusetts and Wisconsin.’

The British study about financial wellbeing after divorce to which you link is not from a month ago: it was published in 1997 based on data from 1991-1994. At that time, according to the study authors, few divorced husbands made payments to their ex-wives, and the amounts were small, so the study is not applicable to conditions today in the US.

Other problems with the British study: it assumed that non-custodial parents have no child-related expenses of their own, whereas such expenses are actually quite substantial (housing is the main cost of raising children — almost 40% — and it costs as much to house a child for 6 days per month as it does to house the child for 24 days per month).

Also, poorer men dropped out of follow-up, leaving the post-divorce sample of men weighted towards those who were wealthier and thus made it look as if almost all men do well financially after divorce.

It is very clear who does better after divorce — and it is not the husbands. It is also clear who does worse — the children, who in study after study express sorrow that they do not have more time with their fathers.

I would add that Belkin’s statement “The first of its kind in [Britain] showed what similar studies in the U.S. have concluded over the years — that men improve their standard of living after a divorce while women sacrifice theirs” is actually meaningless. Holstein debunks the British study, and her assertions about America stem from a widely-publicized myth–a now-discredited study conducted over two decades ago by feminist Lenore Weitzman, author of the 1985 book The Divorce Revolution.

Weitzman concluded that women’s standard of living after divorce dropped by three quarters while men’s rose over 40%. The media trumpeted her research–some have called it one of the most widely reported studies in media history–and it led to sharp increases in child support guidelines. However, years later Weitzman was forced to admit that her findings were vastly overstated, due to a huge mathematical error.

Sanford Braver, Ph.D., one of the nation’s leading experts on the economics of divorce, helped uncover and expose the Weitzman hoax. His research demonstrates that when all relevant factors are taken into account, including the numerous tax advantages custodial parents enjoy, the “men gain/women lose” idea is badly in error. In fact, his new research indicates that the opposite outcome may be more common. To learn more about Braver’s research, read a transcript of an interview with him on ABC’s 20/20 here.

To comment on Belkin’s article, click here.

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