3 Concerning Facts About The ‘Deadbeat Dad’ Myth

deadbeat daddThere are a number of stereotypes and misconceptions that drive the modern child-support system that have been covered extensively on DadsDivorce.com, but perhaps none are as confounding as the myth of the deadbeat dad.

The concept of the deadbeat dad originates from a CBS special report by Bill Moyers that ran in 1986 titled “The Vanishing Family: The Crisis in Black America.” In the report, Moyers interviewed a man named Timothy McSeed who boasted about having six children who he willingly didn’t support financially.

The story spread to news outlets across the country. The image of an arrogant father proud of not providing needed support to his children and their mother was reinforced and the outraged it sparked even led to stricter laws about collecting past child support debts.

While an alarming anecdote, the story of one irresponsible father shouldn’t be used to make gross generalizations and certainly shouldn’t justify passing legislation. In fact, much of the research concerning dads who fail to pay child support paints a much different picture.

Here are three facts about “deadbeat dads” that might surprise and possibly concern you.

A deadbeat parent is anyone who fails to pay child support.

The legal definition of a deadbeat parent is “parents of either gender who have freely chosen not to be supportive parents or who do not pay their child support obligations.” This does not include parents who miss child support payments because they can’t afford it.

According to a U.S. General  Accounting Office Report, 66 percent of child support paid by non-custodial fathers is due to an inability to pay. Calling those fathers “deadbeats” is an unfair label.

“Deadbeat dads” are often only deadbeats because of self-defeating enforcement laws.

The child-support system does a great job of enforcing laws that punish parents for missed child support payments. That includes garnishing wages, intercepting income tax refunds and suspending driver’s licenses.

However, they fall short in offering solutions to the real problem and often drive a wedge deeper between fathers and their children.

If a divorced father finds himself down on his luck and unemployed and misses a child support payment, he can face up to a year in prison if he falls too far behind. That causes more harm to the children since research shows that children who grow up without fathers are at a distinct disadvantage.

While in prison, for being too poor to pay child support, arrearages continue to increase while he has no source of income. Once he is released, the child support burden is even heavier and he faces even bleaker employment prospects. This cycle can be vicious and unending.

Many fathers (and possibly most) who miss child support payments still care about their children.

Timothy McSeed left a lasting image of a father who could care less about his children. But much of the research on fathers who fail to meet child support payments shows that many of them still care deeply about their children, but face barriers when trying to get involved in their lives.

Harvard sociologists Kathryn Edin and Timothy J. Nelson published the book “Doing the Best I Can: Fatherhood in the Inner City” that dispelled many of these myths. By following and interviewing 110 mostly unmarried fathers in New Jersey and Philadelphia, they discovered many “deadbeat dads” try to compensate for their lack of financial support by forming deeper emotional ties to their children.

Wrenetha Julion, PhD, MPH, RN, FAAN, and professor of nursing at Rush University in Chicago conducted a study for her doctoral dissertation that explored the views of African American non-resident fathers about parental involvement.

For the study, she conducted seven focus groups with 69 African-American non-resident fathers. The results of the study debunked the idea that these fathers are uninterested and uncommitted to their children, but that there was a critical need for fatherhood involvement programs to help them remain engaged in their children’s lives.

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7 comments on “3 Concerning Facts About The ‘Deadbeat Dad’ Myth

    Funny, women are the ones to initate most divorces and yellowball is saying “Then don’t get divorced.” Honestly the dead-beat dad myth persists.

    Divorce and child support laws are designed by women and lawyers for lawyers and women. That’s the bottom line of it all. It’s not all about the children, it’s punishment and payback to the male non-custodial spouse. I paid over $120,000 dollars in child / adult support over 12 years. The divorce due to my wife’s indiscretions caused me to become a part-time dad and forced me into court-imposed poverty. I was the working spouse while my wife stayed (and strayed) at home. All in all, my divorce probably set me back about a quarter of a million dollars in divided property, alimony, and child support.

    Women want equal rights to men except when they are getting a divorce. Then they want damn near everything.

    It gave my ex the luxury of not having to work due to a tax-free income and her new husband (later divorced) a comfortably subsidized living. Aside from having a roof over their heads and food for existence, my children did not benefit much from the “child support.”

    The courts hold the non-custodial spouse 100 percent accountable for coming up with and sending the support, but they don’t give a Sh*t how it’s spent by the custodial spouse.

    The custodial spouse gets the money, the lawyers get to practice law, the judges (also lawyers) get to judge, and the non-custodial spouse gets skinned every month and minimal time with the children.

    Thinking about getting married again if you’re the non-custodial spouse? Good luck with thinking the courts are going to cut you some slack, especially if you have more children with your new wife. You’re going to get punished even more because you married “that b*tch” according to your ex-wife. By default, she will automatically hate your new wife. She’ll make every excuse not to let the kids visit you while she’s around. Your new wife will have to work because you won’t be able to afford a second family on your income alone.

    And, being the system designed by women and lawyers for lawyers and women, in most cases the courts won’t reduce your obligation to your first wife no matter how many children you have with your second one.

    On the bright side, my children are now grown and my ex is by herself. She almost lost her home after my last child graduated from high school. Lucky for her we bought a place with 50 acres of land before we split. She had to sell off 33 acres last year at a cheap price for good land in a good location to pay off her mortgage. Today, she’s struggling to survive while I am prospering.

    Karma prevails, and to live much better off than others is the sweetest revenge.

    Excellent article, but missing some crucial information. In the state which I live in, child support and alimony are handled by the same department. This means that if I am unemployed and can’t afford alimony (which is 10x more than child support), I can be labeled as a deadbeat dad. I came close to this situation a few years ago, being out of work for over a year. As it happens, my ex pays me child support since I volunteered to provide medical for the kids. So even though I collected $26/week in child support, I had to pay her $300/week in alimony. When unemployment ran out, I was in danger of being labeled a deadbeat dad. When we went to court over some other issue and she added the arrears to the list of items, the court added an amount to my weekly alimony to make up the missed amount. Yet when I asked that she be responsible for the medical if I were to be unemployed again, it was denied.

    Then don’t get divorced. This isn’t for the guys whose wives leave. That sucks. They should have to face consequences too. But it seems far too many men are quick to say “I’m done” without putting real effort into their marriages, then seeming surprised at the fallout of divorce. Bottom line: Work on that lifetime commitment you made to the other person. Leave no stone unturned in saving your marriage. Simply saying “I’ve fallen out of love” or “grown apart” is no grounds to leave a marriage, which is GOING to have ups and downs through the years and feelings come and feelings go. Sorry but abandoning your wife IS abandoning your kids and that is the truth. Enough with the sugarcoating and embracing of divorce in our society.

    You must be a woman who stumbled across this article. While I believe one shouldn’t abandon their children, there’s also the difference of not paying child support vs. not being able to pay child support. Marriage fails for many reasons, and as one person said, it’s better to come from a broken home than to be in a broken home. If you no longer love someone, staying married to them benefits no one. I do agree that marriage has it’s ups and downs, and that a period of time when things are less than ideal is not a cause for divorce. But tell that to my ex who decided to go out and have affairs…

    Why is it that you are blaming the man for abandoning the marriage? If you viewed men and women as equals, you would clearly state that it takes two to tango. But you don’t. It’s not abandoning the kids if a man walks away from a marriage with the woman. Just like it wouldn’t be if the woman walks away. It’s abandoning the kids IF the kids are not taken care of by the parent. And child support is not meant for the mother or father that is receiving, they have to be adults and fend for themselves. The child support is for the child. You clearly this k that child support should be for the mother as well. I call BS.

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