Recent comments issued by Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey in his annual State of the State Address show that the myth of the deadbeat dad is alive and well.
Ducey, a father of three, launched a campaign to crack down on so-called “deadbeat dads” by posting names and photos to Twitter and Facebook of the “worst of the worst” in hopes that the public shaming will coerce them to pay their unpaid child support.
“For too long you’ve been able to remain anonymous – able to skirt your financial and legal responsibilities with no shame,” Ducey said. “Not anymore. Effective immediately, the state is going to begin posting the photos, names and money owed by these losers to social media with the hashtag #deadbeat.
“It’s simple. If you’re old enough to father a child, then you’re old enough to accept financial responsibility for that child. If you don’t want you’re embarrassing – unlawful – and irresponsible behavior going viral: Man up, and pay up.”
The campaign targets the 421 “deadbeats” in the state (34 of whom are women).
The parents on the list owe more than $5,000, have a warrant issued for their arrest, have missed child support payments for at least 6 months and their location is unknown.
Ducey claims this campaign is to help the high number of vulnerable children in Arizona, but others aren’t so sure of his motives.
Arizona Fathers’ Rights, a volunteer group that assists fathers and families through the process of family courts, called the move a “cheap publicity stunt.”
“The fact is well-known that the vast majority of people labeled as ‘Deadbeats’ are simply dead-broke,” David Hamu, the group’s chairman of the board, said to NBC News in a statement. “Moreover, this sort of gender bias would result in a typhoon of outrage if women were being singled out and it is truly awful that Gov. Ducey doesn’t acknowledge that there are mothers who are obligors who should also be targeted during any crackdown.”
Any campaign against “deadbeat” fathers is almost certainly misguided if you examine the data and research regarding parents in the child support system.
Obviously, parents who willingly skip out on child support should face severe consequences. There are a number of enforcement tools already in place for that purpose – from wage garnishment to driver’s license suspensions.
However, more often than not, dads fail to pay their support not because they are unwilling to do so, but simply because they don’t have the money.
Consider some of these statistics:
- 29% of families in the child support system live below the federal poverty line.
- 45% of fathers with no visitation rights still financially support their children.
- 66% of child support not paid by non-custodial fathers is due to an inability to pay.
What’s more is that even the most financially disadvantaged fathers seem to find other ways to contribute to their children’s upbringing. A study of nearly 400 low-income noncustodial fathers found that many of those dads still found ways to provide in-kind support (non-cash goods).
“The most disadvantaged dads end up looking like they’re completely distanced from their kids but they’re actually giving quite a lot,” Kathryn Edin, an expert on low-income fathers who helped conduct the study, said in a statement. “I was really surprised by how much these disadvantaged guys, these truly marginally employed men, are putting all of this thought and what little resources they have into showing their children that they care.”
Stigmatizing parents who fail to pay child support as “deadbeats” ignores how complicated life is for many people.
The characterization also fails to acknowledge how flawed the modern child support system is. There are plenty of dads who find themselves in an unending cycle of debt despite their best efforts to support their children.
Child support payments don’t necessarily stop during periods of unemployment. Too many missed payments can lead to incarceration. While in prison, the debt continues to accumulate since incarceration is considered “voluntary unemployment.”
Once released, these individuals face low employment prospects. Up to 60% of former inmates remain unemployed a year after their release.
With a mountain of child support arrears that continue accumulating and no job prospects, many feel forced into illegal activities to make ends meet. That of course puts them at risk for reincarceration.
And the cycle continues.
This is the reality many dads tragically face.
Recent legislation proposed would work to establish a child support system that is more rehabilitative than punitive, but it is uncertain if those proposals can make their way through Congress. Regardless, it would still likely take years to overhaul a system that is so broken.
Coming up with realistic solutions that are fair to fathers and mothers and provide the financial support children need during their formative years is a complicated and daunting task.
For some politicians, it probably seems much more convenient to just label them all deadbeats and move on.