'Deadbeat Dads' Get a Bum Rap
Some things are neither liberal nor conservative. They favor neither Republicans nor Democrats. But they are important nonetheless.
Chief among these nonpartisan concerns were little-remembered passages from the president's State of the Union address and Sen. Marco Rubio's Republican reply. Both had the same message, and both got it wrong.
The president touted the need to help men become good fathers. It was predicated on the urban myth that a large group of fathers abandon their children and refuse to support them.
In fact, this is based upon a racist idea, one to which even the president ascribes: that young black men desert their children with the same reckless abandon that they father them. Hence, the government needs to intervene to teach these "ignorant" victims of society how to behave.
And Rubio agrees. In his response to the president, he decried the breakdown of the family by describing the plight of "mothers all alone, the father of their child long gone."
Now, the problem of a father abandoning his children does exist. But after 35 years as an attorney litigating family-law custody and child-support battles, I have rarely come across a man, black or white, married or not, who, once convinced of his paternity, did not want to be part of his child's life.
The true problem of the modern family is that one parent or the other demonizes his or her former lover and uses the police and the courts to gain exclusive custody. It is not the father who excludes himself from a child, but a system that, in spite of professing neutrality, too often defaults to maternal custody.
Indeed, there are billions in unpaid child support. But much of this money owed is due to the recalcitrance of fathers to pay money to mothers who see their mission as one to exclude fathers from meaningful roles as co-parents. It is a very unusual day when I go to court and one parent wants to give another more time with a child.
Most fathers would gladly buy their children anything so long as they could tuck them into bed three-and-one-half days per week and see the smile on their face when they come home from school. But too many fathers are relegated to weekend fatherhood or less, interacting with their children only when lack of work permits it. And this is often not for lack of desire, but for lack of judicial permission.
Our courts and our legislature need to rethink the concept of "family" in the 21st century. Like it or not, children will increasingly be born out of wedlock or become the victims of wedlock gone wrong.
To this, our courts must respond with less litigation and greater certainty that both parents will receive frequent and continuing contact with their children.
First, we must guarantee that, absent compelling evidence to dispute it, each parent has the right to 50 percent of the custodial time of their child. Once parents understand that courts will most likely award each parent alternating half-weeks or alternating weeks with a child, fewer parents will tie up courts in custody litigation.
And where each parent makes roughly the same amount of money, there will be no "deadbeat dad" with a child-support debt because there will be no need for child support.
Indeed, fathers will be more willing to buy things they give directly to their children rather than to write a check to a child support collection agent.
Now, clearly this will not work in every case. Some parents live too far apart to effectively co-parent. Some parents are too in love with violence or substance abuse to actually love a child. But these are exceptions, not the rule.
And there is no substitute for an intact nuclear family. Where it exists, it must be applauded. But sadly, in too many cases these too, are becoming exceptions, not the rule.
The legislature must broadcast to the state that where a nuclear family is broken, children are best raised by a father and a mother equally sharing the joys and the burdens.
Robert M. Levy is chairman of the Moore County Republican Party. Contact him at Law52@prodigy.net.
More like this story