NCM talking points for Dr. Phil show, "Forced to be a Deadbeat?"
Story One – Bill, in the midst of divorce, wants to take a lower-paying job so that he will have more time to spend with his children. His attorney has advised him that the court will not permit him to voluntarily lower his income.
The child support obligation of fathers is frequently based on a man's earnings history and potential. The assumption is often made that if a father is employed at a job earning less than he could theoretically be earning, then there must be some sinister motive for his under-employment. It is assumed that he chose a lower-paying job so that he could pay less child support.
Of course, if a man were not divorced, no judge could ever tell him what job to take, as long as he could provide a minimum level of support for his child. Many fathers change careers so that they can spend more quality time with their families. This employment strategy is laudable, especially at a time of divorce, when children may need more contact with their fathers. The court should have congratulated Bill for wanting to spend more time at home.
The inflexibility of the court in Bill's case is driven by money and gender. In a similar Wisconsin case, Chen v. Warner, the court allowed a mother to quit her job completely so she could stay at home with her children. Bill is right when he sees gender bias in the system. Despite major advances for women in the professional world, not much has really changed in how society views men: a father is still judged primarily by his ability to provide for his family. A man's worth is still judged by the money he makes. The society may say it wants men to be more involved fathers, but not really.
The imputing of income to fathers is often punitive… it forces a man to give up his dreams and to become professionally indentured. And as more men lose their jobs due to the recession (The New York Times reports that 82% of layoffs are male), child support calculated on imputed income will force men into homelessness and further despair.
Story Two -- On the "Tough Love" Raids in Phoenix, Arizona. Men who are delinquent on their child support payments are arrested and publicly humiliated.
According to The National Council For Children's Rights, about five to six million children are denied access to their fathers, often by women defying court orders for visitation.
Law enforcement should be even-handed. If the authorities feel they have to arrest fathers who don't pay support, they should also arrest mothers who don't allow visitation. Anything else is political grandstanding, not law enforcement. In fact, this kind of selective and politically-motivated enforcement adds to men's resentment and probably lowers the amount of child support collected, in the long run.
But it's good theatre and it gets votes. Who really cares about children?
Story Three -- Jason Caffey, former professional basketball player, earned five million dollars a year, and now owes back child support.
While Jason's story illustrates the problem with imputing income, it has to be differentiated from everything else that happens in the real world, where there are very few five million dollar men.
The Federal Agency for Child Support Enforcement reports that about 70% of all child support arrears is owed by men earning less than $10,000 a year. That's a current statistic. Ten thousand dollars, not five million.
Also, about 29% of fathers delinquent on child support are institutionalized, most of them in prison, some in prison for failure to pay child support. Mostly poor men, broken men and homeless men are being broken further by a heartless system pretending to care about children.
By the way, even if Jason were still earning five million dollars a year, NCM is not sure his child support should be based on that amount. Child support is not intended to be a financial windfall for a child's mother. It's not adult support.
Story Four -- Jennifer and Bret cannot adequately provide for their children because so much money is leaving their home and going to Bret's ex-wife, Heide.
Over the years, many second wives have complained to NCM that the courts don't care about their children. Jennifer and Bret's story reveals the ugly truth behind the child support industry: despite the rhetoric about "best interests of children," the collection of child support is mostly about money, gender and power.
If the system really cared about children, it would care about Jennifer and Bret's children and it would care that Bret be allowed to be a father to the child he had with Heide.
Incidentally, Heide's apparent refusal to give Bret meaningful parenting time with their daughter, may be sufficient cause for a change in custody.
ADDITIONAL NCM TALKING POINTS