When you hear the word “deadbeat”, the very first thing that comes to mind, and usually accompanied with that thing is rage, is the word “Dad”. It is unfortunately a stereotypical thing, because no one every thinks or believes that a mother could be a “deadbeat” parent. The media is very good at presenting only the male version of the parent who intentionally avoids paying child support obligations.
And there is the key point, that no one takes into consideration, the word “intentionally.” A “deadbeat parent” and I am intentionally leaving it gender-neutral because there are offenders in both genders. But the operative word is “intentionally” as in avoiding to pay child support.
A “meme” that I came across to strike my point home is worded as follows (I am not actually picturing the meme because it is gender specific, but in words, it is gender neutral): “Just because you are a single parent, doesn’t mean the other parent is a deadbeat. It just means that people only know your side of the story.” And this is true in most of the cases. We only hear what one person “confides” in us about their former spouse. We never hear from the other spouse because after all, we are loyal to our friends and family (well, in most cases anyway), so we just assume that the information is 100% accurate. It must be true, and we must stand together and bring this “deadbeat” to justice! Grab the pitchforks and torches.
But seriously, just what if there is another side to the story. What if a parent simply needs more time to come up with the support award, and has legal processes in action to do so, just waiting for typical red tape to be resolved? Or perhaps sanctions placed to punish the parent into complying but actually making things more difficult to resolve financially. Seriously, can a society expect a person to get a job with the following credentials: bad credit report, passport seized, bank accounts seized, drivers license suspended (a good one – how can they get to work or even apply for a job, and the big one, incarceration? Again, how can someone get or keep a job if they are in jail, let alone be hired for one with a criminal record. Or even worse, what if the non-custodial parent is dealing with such severe health issues, that combined with court sanctions, make it even more difficult to support the award? In recent months, I have met many different scenarios of parents dealing with child support and visitation issues. And the crazy thing is, as opposed to the way things are presented in the media, usually one-sided, there are very differing situations and are being handled much more different that what I, and perhaps you the readers, have been led to believe.
Off the top of my head, here is a brief summary of the situations I referred to above:
* 3 mothers who have never even asked for child support, knowing that a) a bigger battle would have become of the divorce as well as the potential for alienating the father
* 2 sets of parents who actually get along, much better at being divorced than having been married
* 2 parents who wait for notices to appear in court for back support, and then take from their living expenses (meaning their rent or mortgage then is not paid)
The thing about the above situations is that none of these are “intentional.” Yet, if you mention the situation, “no child support being paid,” our minds have been trained to automatically sound the war cry “DEADBEAT!!!”
And in fairness, I also know of two parents who are going through a difficult fight indeed, because the other parent wants nothing to do with the child (or children). In fact, funds are available, but there is so much animosity between the parents, each parent wanting only to harm the other, especially emotionally, but only the child (or children) is hurt.
This is where the following story I came across summed everything up for me:
Briefly, it is a post that was printed in the New York Times last month, written by Kimberly Seals Allers. Her former spouse owed more than $38750 in child support, an amount that all of us who have nothing at stake in this issue that would have us all cry out “DEADBEAT DAD!!!” The story was obviously spurred on by the murder of Walter Scott, a father who was shot and killed, unarmed also, simply for running from an officer to avoid being taken to jail for back child support. The tragedy was bad enough for a man to have needlessly lost his life, but a child lost their father.
Ms. Allers states, “Earlier this year, I spent three hours sitting on a hard, wooden bench in the Queens County Family Court, waiting for a judge to approve my petition to forgive $38,750 in child support arrears from my ex-husband.” Of course, the judge had to make sure that the obviously confused mother had received proper counsel, and family and friends and other single parents were completely baffled as to the sanity of Ms. Allers. But further in her post, she writes, “We have too often reduced nonresidential fathers to being weighed and judged by a financial transaction. If you don’t pay, you’re a “dead beat.” End of one story, beginning of a new one, one that can mean suspended drivers’ licenses and professional licenses, seized bank deposits and tax refunds, and the very real risk of jail time. The family of Walter Scott, who was fatally shot in the back following a traffic stop, speculates that a similar narrative led him to flee the police, fearing another lost job and another jail stint. It can also mean some mothers blocking access to children (called “pay per view”) and children becoming pawns in a game that puts their development and psychological well-being on the line.”
You can view the rest of the post from the link I provided up above. But you can see clearly why, with such an extreme large amount, she finally “got” what was so important. The children.
I have always told my daughters that their parent’s divorce, is just that, between the husband and the wife, not between the parent and the child. NEVER! between the parent and the child. It is too easy as it is for a child to begin to believe that they are at blame for the marriage to have come to an end.
Ms. Allers continues, ” “child support” also means emotional support, academic support and the supportive power of a male influence in a child’s life. Negating that value is dangerous to our children. Regardless of what I think of him, my children love their father and doing my part to keep that feeling alive is priceless to me.”
Make no mistake, parental alienation of any kind, even if is cause and effect of the financial demands that have been put in place, is emotional child abuse. Pitting a child against another parent, and then hiding behind the court orders as the reason, is still parental alienation.
And then it happened for Ms. Allers. ”
“But last June, my daughter graduated from middle school. She wanted nothing more than for her father, who has moved back to his native England, to attend her graduation. (Our children spend 6 weeks there with him every summer.) He could not travel to the United States to attend, he and his new wife said, because of his child support arrears and subsequent arrest warrants. My daughter was beyond disappointed that he wasn’t there. I would have paid the $38,000 myself if I could to remove that look from her face. What I could do was to be sure it didn’t happen again, and take the words “arrest warrant” out of the language my children associate with their father.”
The moral of the story is this, you cannot replace in a child’s heart and memory, what has been take from them, EVER! And Ms. Allers realized, though be it too late, that whatever bitterness that existed between she and her former spouse, should never have had an impact on her kids.
Both parents, custodial and non-residential need to be involved in their children’s lives, emotionally, academically, and from a mentor point of view. The squabbles between the spouses, ironically, the issues that caused the divorce are often never even dealt with even after the divorce is final, those squabbles need to be kept to just the parents.
If a child has both parents, that child needs both parents. If a child has only a single parent for whatever reason, but has other support from family members, that child needs that.
But understand this simple concept, the only ones who know the children well enough, are the parents, not the courts. The courts are only going to rule the way the law allows them, which in many cases is not in the best interest of the children. Now of course, the devil’s argument would be, that if you can work out things calmly without going to court, then why not stay married? Because as I said, the issues that lead up to a divorce, not to be confused with an event that precedes the filing, never get resolved. But yes, if the process were left up to simple mediation, then perhaps the best interests of the children would finally be considered.
The thing is, once you have taken a parent away from a child, the time can never be given back, even if arrears can be settled. Once time is lost, it is lost. Perhaps other options can be considered to allow more time when the custodial parent is not in an immediate need, that would allow the non-custodial parent to arrange for the arrears, either by way of petitioning for the temporary suspension. And this does not even mean modifying or requesting termination of the award. Sometimes time is all that is needed to provide the momentum to turn things around. But when only money is the motivating factor, and according to one lesson I learned in church as a child, 1 Timothy chapter 6 verse 10 quotes, “money is a root of all kinds of evil, and in eagerness to get rich, some pierce themselves with many pains.”
My dad always wished he could have done things differently. That much he did tell me before he died.