Washington Times

Tuesday, November 9, 1999

DIVORCED DADS TAKING IT ON THE CHIN, THEN SOME

by Deborah Simmons, The Washington Times
Section: E FAMILY TIMES FAMILY MATTERS, Page: E6

Well, America, we have a problem. Make that a huge problem. We are mercilessly beating up on all fathers because some refuse to pay child support.

About 24 million American children live in homes in which the father is not present, and we know the emotional and financial consequences can be devastating not just for the children, but for society as a whole. But those unfortunate circumstances are costing us precious dollars - and to little avail. Moreover, the federal government is trying to snoop into every corner of our personal lives because roughly 10 percent of non- custodial parents do not make timely child-support payments.First the dollars and cents. In Florida, taxpayers spent more than $4.5 million to collect a paltry $162,000 from delinquent fathers, and there is scant evidence that crackdowns - which, by the way, are occurring nationwide - serve any purpose other than to increase the bank accounts of those special-interest groups pushing enforcement. In fact, while state and federal governments move toward even tougher enforcement, a cottage industry already has been spawned. Child- support enforcement and all its high-tech know-how is a $3 billion industry.

Let's apply a little conventional wisdom, shall we?

Mrs. Joe Sixpack files for divorce and asks that her soon-to-be ex pay $700 a month on 16-year-old Joe Jr.'s behalf. That is enough, she says through her $150-an-hour divorce lawyer, to cover half the mortgage, car insurance for Joe Jr., a therapist for poor Joe Jr., who needs counseling because he doesn't understand why his mom is trying to wreck his dad's life, and enough bucks for the fashion-conscious teen to toss around the Gap every few weeks.

But Mr. Sixpack only nets $700 every two weeks, and though he could stand to shed a few inches from his rounded waistline, starving him is hardly the way to go. Besides food, his post-divorce income will hardly pay for his auto insurance and a safe, clean roof over his head so Joe Jr. can visit between therapy sessions.

Mr. Sixpack, who is forced to take care of two households, cannot possibly benefit in such a divorce case, and neither can Joe Jr., who cannot visit because his father lives in a shabby apartment in a rundown neighborhood that his ex-wife, through her lawyer, says is unsafe.

Be real. Don't you think it is absurd to put such a stranglehold on Mr. Sixpack when Mrs. Sixpack deserted him? Neither Joe Sr. nor Joe Jr. should be forced to suffer the consequences of her whimsies.

To be sure, I'm not talking about abusive relationships or flat-out irresponsible fathers and husbands who refuse to acknowledge their children. I'm talking about fathers who have good relationships with their children and who, sometimes through no fault of their own, are kicked to the curb because their wives want their "space."

See, interesting enough, studies have shown that few divorces are instigated on the grounds of violence, desertion or even adultery, and studies also have shown that the most often quoted reasons women give for divorce are that the couple grew apart or the wife and mother felt unloved or unappreciated.

The poor dears have an ally in one high-profile father who wants to thrust even more contempt on fathers who are forced out of their homes and pushed away from their children.

Your vice president, Al Gore, wants not only to lock up delinquent parents and, as many states do, take away their driver's licenses, but also to deny them passports and credit cards.

On this one, Mr. Gore and others who earn their keep by beating up on delinquent parents are out to lunch.

Look, I know custodial parents sometimes have a hard time making ends meet. I used to be one. Still, it seems to me we (the people, not the government) ought to engage churches and cultural organizations to encourage parents to realize how vitally important it is that a family tough things out sometimes and, yes, most times for the benefit of the children.

Unless, of course, the real agenda is to vilify men. This recent movement is particularly disturbing to me because of its effect on black fathers.

Another columnist recently cited interesting statistics regarding low- income dads 16 to 25 years old in the nation's capital. Large percentages of them took their children to the doctor; had only one child or, if they had more, had them by only one mother; and did the usual gigs that parents do, such as bathing, feeding, dressing and playing with their children. Their relationships sound rather healthy, don't they?

What happens when those fathers are locked up? If they can't work? If they can't pay child support? If the mother is poor and/or unemployed? Tax dollars for food stamps, welfare, day care, housing and health care -

and more jails, guards, lawyers and judges. Meanwhile, little Bubba still doesn't see his daddy.

For better child-support enforcement, Mr. Gore and others want to fund, with our tax dollars, a national database to keep track of mothers' and fathers' every move. Our spending habits, travels, tax records, health care habits, Internet habits, driving records and who knows what else may be open for scrutiny.

I think that is waste and a violation of our privacy.

My question to you is: What are we going to do about it? As always, I await your comments.

Deborah Simmons is an editorial writer for The Washington Times. She can be reached by e-mail (simmon@twtmail.com).