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Dead Beat Dads

By Nancy.A.Knox
Arizona Daily Wildcat
January 25, 1999
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editor@wildcat.arizona.edu


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Arizona Daily Wildcat


My ex-husband is a deadbeat dad. Not just any deadbeat dad, but the third-worst deadbeat dad in all of Pima county. I was recently notified of his promotion to that position. His arrears accumulated via seven years of noncompliance with court-ordered payments now totals upwards of $54,000. What a distinction. What a guy. What a disgrace.

Sadder yet, though his noncompliance is worthy of the National Enquirer, he is far from alone. In this country, a mere 50 percent of children receive their ordered support. Another 25 percent receive partial, sporadic payments, and 25 percent receive nothing. In Pima County, the noncompliance factors are higher, with only 46 percent receiving full payment and a full 32 percent receiving no support from their fathers whatsoever. Nationwide, non-custodial parents owe $6 billion dollars in unpaid support to their children for 1998 alone.

The economic reality of this discrepancy is frightening. Inadequate or non-existent child support, coupled with the lower wages usually earned by females — mothers with dependent children earn, on the average, 56 percent of the male wage — produces a situation in which the family income plummets post-divorce. A woman and her dependent children’s standard of living drops, on average, 70 percent after a divorce, while the male standard rises approximately 30 percent. Custody is awarded to mothers in 90 percent of all divorce cases. That translates into a plethora of children living in households with annual incomes below the national poverty levels. With a national divorce rate of 51 percent, this encompasses a tremendous amount of America’s children.

Apparently, after a divorce, men become single, women become single parents.

Predictably, many divorced women are enrolled in Temporary Aid to Needy Families (TANF), commonly known as welfare. Many families are forced to enlist the services of TANF, food subsidy programs, and subsidized child and medical care as a direct result of unpaid child support obligations. In response to this increase, Congress added Title IV-D to the Social Security Act to encourage enforcement of court-ordered support decrees. In each state, agencies have been created for the sole purpose of enforcing the remedies and procedures outlined in Title IV-D. The agencies have different names, e.g. Child Support Enforcement Branch, Office of Recovery Services, but no matter what the title, they have child support enforcement as their objective. The Child Support Recovery Act of 1992 made willful failure to support a child in another state a federal crime, punishable by fines, imprisonment or both.

Why then, with all this legislation, are non-custodial parents, such as my ex, allowed to slip through the cracks? Staffing, inadequate budgets and sheer case overload are the answer. In Pima County, 12 staff members are responsible for more than 45,000 cases, with 500 new applications for enforcement received monthly. It takes months before any action whatsoever is taken against the non-compliant parent.

As if the situation weren’t dire enough, there is now an effort by the Pima Country Board of Supervisors to further cut the staff and the budget for child support enforcement. This will translate into further caseworker overload and increasingly long denial of relief for custodial parents, and more welfare recipients. Arrears owed will only continue to increase, leaving children in more impoverished situations than currently faced.

Why should we care about children that are not our own? Theoretically, because all of us could easily have been one of these children. Altruistically, because we as a supposedly-evolved society have a moral obligation to concern ourselves with the well-being of all our members. Inflated self-worth, myopic behavior and selfishness are the antithesis of what we profess to hold as societal values.

Practically we should be concerned because we are forced to assume a “parens patriae” role vis a vis assistance programs, which fill the gap that non-supporting parents create. With strict enforcement of child support, the need for assistance would dramatically decrease. Receivership of any child support automatically disqualifies a family for cash assistance. Want true welfare reform? Enforce child support obligations.

My own children are incredibly resilient. They rarely complain about their Goodwill clothing, second-hand bikes and Top Ramen dinners. Their “father” rarely sees them, and manages to always evade their questions concerning his acquisition of racehorses, mining claims and out-of-town trips. It is my fervent hope that when we again meet before the court, a judge will disagree with his belief that he “don’t owe nuthin” to the children he willingly helped to create.

Nancy A. Knox is a political science and sociology senior. She can be reached at Nancy.Knox@wildcat.arizona.edu.