Fresh from Belize, my ex shoots off an email about how yet again, he cannot afford to help with our two children’s school supply fees, not to mention their tuition (which is equal to the cost of, say, a trip to Belize for a week). He whined about having to get “discount housing” and “ride in other people’s cars.” I could only decipher that as rental cars, since you can’t drive to Belize. This was only one of many vacations this year.
Five years ago, as a broken and falling-apart-divorcing woman, I walked into mediation with this man. I was greeted by a stack of motions detailing my depression and inadequacy as a mother. His bullying tactic worked and I agreed to the parenting schedule he proposed, even though it did not reflect his current relationship with the children. It was close enough to NOT being 50/50 that I could stomach it, and it gave me all the weekends with the kids except for 12 a year. I agreed to the amount of child support he proposed. I agreed to a lot of things and he did not have to bend very much, if at all. That was “mediation.”
Six months later, he had switched attorneys and suddenly he needed to terminate child support. Three years of the family court system yielded a judgment: “yes, sir, you do have to pay your child support in the amount you agreed upon.” Six months after that, another motion to terminate child support, this time with a new judge. There was another motion to punish me for various schedule infractions. “.25 hours, 1.5 hours, .75 hours” the motion read. It was foolish of me not to take him to court for his own infractions against the schedule, but instead I decided to stand up for myself without the court’s help by taking the time back. I was punished to the tune of $2300, which, upon his attorney immediately filing to have that taken out of my check, puts me at poverty level.
My ex is well funded by his parents, and they completely pay his legal fees. His father is a former divorce attorney and knows how to work the system. My ex managed to reduce his income on paper by $25K very quickly and in the middle of a child support dispute. The previous judge neglected to hold him in contempt any of the three times we filed to find him in contempt for not paying child support for a year and a half.
To recap: my well-funded ex used the court system to impoverish me, setting it up that I would have to depend on the government for support. The family court system also set it up that I would have to depend on the government for support.
I am not the only one with this type of story. Nationwide, over 100 billion dollars is owed in back child support, overwhelmingly (82%) to mothers and public assistance. That is why I do not write from a gender-neutral stance. If the statistics were 50/50, there might be reason to maintain gender neutrality but they aren’t. This means that taxpayers ultimately paid for my ex’s right to bully me in court, create financial distress in my house, run off to play in Belize, and end up looking like a good dad because he does uphold his visitation agreement. He just refuses to fully support his children financially. Taxpayers will pay for my children’s insurance when their able-bodied father could be working more to take up the slack.
Yet my ex does not fit our popular story of a deadbeat dad. Deadbeat dads are the ones who exit a child’s life, or show up on weekends and act like the playful uncle instead of the dad, or send material goods in lieu of parenting. Deadbeat dads don’t show up and they shirk their financial responsibilities by running away. But my ex does this out loud and on purpose. He proudly shows up to our children’s games, often with his whole family in tow. He upholds his parenting time, the one part of the agreement he was able to hold. But he refuses to support me, his children’s mother. He seems to have no appreciation for the bigger picture of our children’s life, and how financially crippling his co-parent is not good for our children.
Let’s take a minute to talk about taxpayers. In my case, taxpayers have funded my ex’s excess litigation. He pays for his attorney, but taxpayers pay a lot more for a judge’s and a court’s time. One could argue he set it up to litigate his own agreement in order to punish me through incessantly demanding that while he could make an agreement, he didn’t legally have to uphold it. Five years of litigation is a long time. So now we have one party hiding money, and another party using the government to pay for their children’s insurance, food, and barely pay taxes. It’s a double whammy for taxpayers. Fatherhood.org reports:
- The Federal Government spent at least $99.8 billion providing assistance to father-absent homes in 2006.
- This is a conservative estimate; it does not include federal benefit programs for communities, indirect costs related to poor outcomes of children from father-absent homes, and long-term costs in reduced tax income from low-earning single-parent families
Deadbeat in any form, whether it is not showing up for your child, treating a child’s mother poorly and punishing her through overuse of the court system, or otherwise hiding money or being a financial leach is still deadbeat. Financial absence is felt just as strongly as physical absence. It’s not sexy. It’s just not. And it costs everyone money. But no taxpayers are up in arms about this. They seem all too willing to allow a person to work the system. Or to turn a blind eye. Or perhaps, to culturally bring in gender and punish women.
Of course, not all the men who evade child support are like my ex. However, with the popularity of judges ordering 50/50 parenting plans, one wonders if child support is even public policy any more.
Nowhere along the line have I ever heard of a judge stopping to do simple math. Nowhere does the system encourage looking at how much is spent in litigation versus how much is spent in parenting expenses. Without consequence or challenge, a person can spend more money on court than on child support, and somehow look poor. How is this reasonable? How does 108 billion dollars just get ignored? If that number was attached to a Pentagon or a war expense we’d stand up and take notice. This is a war, a war on broken families, one that ultimately reduces our children’s quality of life.
It is also a war on women. Statistics show that the lower your socioeconomic status, the poorer your health. Men using the court system to impoverish a woman also place their children at high risk for health and social problems. Poverty is no joke, and a system that allows someone to deliberately impoverish another, especially when that person was an intimate partner, especially when that person is much richer, is deplorable. That system should be completely obliterated and re-formed.
But that system was formed by white men for the benefit of white men. It isn’t going to go away without a fight. Judges make decisions based on pseudo-scientific concepts such as ‘parental alienation’. Parental alienation is not even a diagnosis and it was developed by a known supporter of paedophilia (sex with children). Men’s rights have effectively taken away children’s rights by setting an example of “how to abuse a mother.”
Our children deserve more than this.
Solana Simpson is a veteran of many family court wars. She works as an artist, teacher, is a psychology student, and was recently published in the anthology Single Mothers Speak on Patriarchy (2016).