Paul's Heart

Life As A Dad, And A Survivor

What Exactly Is A Deadbeat? A PSA For Those Who Do Not Really Know The Answer

From a grammar standpoint, I am the last person who will ever critique anything, whether it be spelling, detail, or any particular aspect meant to have an impact on something.  But I do have a peeve that I do believe is only fair.  That is, when people use words that they either do not know the true meaning, or use them in an erroneous manner, all for the purpose of making them appear more intelligent than they really are.

One particular word that gets treated this way, “deadbeat”.  So, as I normally try to help and support those with cancer related issues, adoption related issues, disability issues, and so on, I want to help straighten out the confusion over the actual word, “deadbeat.”

“Deadbeat” is commonly thrown around in reference to divorce circumstances, especially when it comes to support issues.  But the fact is, the word is definitely inappropriately used.

DEADBEAT is someone who willfully and persistently fails to perform an expected task.  Some websites elaborate and perhaps dilute the actual meaning by referring to “deadbeat” as lazy, lacking ambition.  The term is meant to criticize or insult by what the accuser making the statement thinks that they know about the particular situation.  The key to defining what a “deadbeat” is, is it willful behavior?

First, let us set a couple of ground rules.  “Deadbeat” is a gender neutral term.  It can apply to both male and female.  Next, being a “deadbeat” is not just limited to a monetary commitment, but rather any kind of act that is committed willfully and intentionally.  A person can be a “deadbeat” in reference to custody by willfully violating a court order of custody.  So, from this point on, I will only refer to the general neutral terms, spouse or parent, as both are capable of this moniker.

Next, we have to clarify situations that are all too generalized, resulting in the erroneous use of the term “deadbeat.”  For the purpose of this post, I will refer to the act of paying child support, since that is when the term is most often used.  Is every parent who is either unable to pay support or not in full, a “deadbeat?”  Absolutely not.  And again, you have to look at every situation individually, if it really is any of your business.

A parent could have lost their job.  An incorrect support award may have been ordered, pending an appeal.  A major health crisis may have occurred.  Even a simple technical error in computer systems failing to register payments.  It all boils down to, “was it intentional?”

Perhaps the easiest way to determine if it was on purpose or not, again, if it is any of your business to figure out, is, what kind of parent is the one creating the lack of fulfilling the obligation?

There are parents out there who WILLFULLY ignore their children.  They do not even want to acknowledge that they have children, who do not even see or wish to see their children.  A parent in this type of situation may just be more likely to be called a “deadbeat” because there is no desire for a physical relationship with the child, hence, why should the child support be necessary.  To actually label this type of a parent as a “deadbeat,” definitely does not do justice because the hurt goes beyond just not paying the support, but clearly causes harm to the child.

Then there is the parent who WILLFULLY withholds a child from the other parent, often times over failure to fulfill their support obligations.  But again, with the key to being a “deadbeat” being a willful act, who is truly the “deadbeat” in this situation?

And finally, there is the parent who does all that can be done legally, in spite of set backs, in spite of health, in spite of sabotage by others, and other factors that are no fault of the offending parent, who keep in communication with their child(or children), who do what they are able to visit with their children, again in spite of the interference and harassment by others.  A parent who never objects to paying their support obligation or amount, even if unable to in whole or partially.  Is this type of parent “deadbeat?”  Hardly.

Those that willfully and intentionally refuse to pay, usually find means when coerced by the legal system.  Threats of sanctions such as license suspensions, passport seizures, and even jail are usually enough of a deterrent to convince the offender to pay, and pay right away.  In other words, they had the means.  It was an intentional act not to do so.  Yes, that is the “deadbeat.”

But it is the parent, who no fault of their own, may be unable to pay the amount in full or even partially.  And it only gets worse from there.  Again, remedies are in place to enforce the support, but as the saying goes, “you cannot get blood from a stone.”  So what good do remedies do, if the means are not there?  Sanctions, without the ability to correct, means that the situation can only be expected to get worse.  And it does not take long until the results are insurmountable.  How does a parent earn money, when a license is suspended and cannot drive to work?  How does a parent earn money, when incarcerated for arrears?  How does a parent keep or get employment with an incarceration to earn money to pay their obligation?  They do not.  And the cycle will only keep repeating.  Exactly, where does the “willful” part come in, that this type of parent should be called a “deadbeat?”  It does not.

Let us take the last paragraph one step further.  It is one thing with the above paragraph for the situation of falling into arrears to just happen naturally.  But when the situation is accelerated and escalated due to  the vindictive and vengeful behavior of a scorned spouse, exactly, where does the “willful” part come in on the part of the person obligated to the support?  It seems to me, the only “willful” part is coming from the spouse due to collect the support.

I have many friends, all in different situations and positions of this discussion.  We are all respectful of the individual situation.  We have a parent who does not want anything to do with their child.  There is a parent who wants to spend more time with their child, and the other parent refuses, worst of all, for no justifiable reason other than “just because I said so.”  And there are many of us who do everything within our power, within our ability, to remain as strong a part and influence in our children’s lives.

As an adult child of divorce myself, being divorced with children as an adult is not any easier.  But one advantage that I do have, is that I know what I do not want to happen with my children emotionally.  I know the importance of having both parents remain in their childrens’ lives.  I personally know the difference of what one missed phone call can make, and the affirmation of each visit made.

I hope this helps to clear things up.

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