Opponents of men’s rights activism respond to discussion on custody and child support by denying the validity of father’s issues. Their story is that the movement’s assertions about court bias are unfounded. Their counter uses a combination of claims and insinuation to portray men as deadbeats who wantonly father unwanted children, abandon them, and then whine about being expected to support them. They carefully frame the story in a set of myths and selectively presented facts to create an impression an objective look at the facts wouldn’t support.
1) Child support is for the child, not for the mother.
2) Women pay child support, too.
The first is a myth, the second, selective presentation. There are three factors which contradict the first, one of which counters the second.
First, when paternal custody was the norm, women weren’t expected to pay child support following a divorce. It was created for maternal custody. The basis for it was disparity in potential income, a situation which no longer need be a determining factor in child support awards. It was not out of consideration that a debt was owed to the child, but that the mother could not be counted upon to earn a living the way a man would.
Second, under the few circumstances in which fathers are awarded custody, child support is less frequently ordered, and that which is ordered is less. If child support were for the child, the sex of the parent paying wouldn’t affect the amount.
Third, in American cases where welfare is involved, the state keeps the child support payments. If these payments are for the benefit of children, state confiscation is an atrocity. Further, the custody and support environment worsened after changes in welfare law which provide federal incentive to states to collect child support. When the child support enforcement agency collects, the state gets paid by the federal government. Awarding custody to mothers puts the state in a better condition to exploit that payment system, as single mothers are more likely to use the welfare system than single fathers.
This combination shows that child support is not for the child, but for the state, which collects on behalf of the mother.
3) Laws keep child support obligation reasonable.
Laws should keep child support obligation reasonable. However, they do not. States use “imputed income,” which is basically an assumption that a man makes or should be making more than he has told the court he does, to assign higher support obligation. The state then garnishes him for the maximum it can (based on gross income) and after taxes, many men are left without enough to live on, much less to fund a court petition to have the obligation reassessed. This results in men being jailed for inability, rather than the refusal to pay that feminists present in their arguments.
4) Being a single parent is financially harder than paying child support.
Parents who pay child support are also single parents. They are expected to provide their kids with the same standard of living in their home on half or less of their income that the support recipient can afford on her income plus the support.
Additionally, custodial parents have welfare as a safety net, while noncustodial parents have less access to it. When a custodial parent applies for welfare the only income counted is that which she actually has. When a noncustodial parent applies, many state’s gross income test which determines eligibility includes child support money that has been garnished from his wages, and even if child support payment puts him well below the poverty level he can be denied assistance based on that gross income.
The custodial parent can depend on income from herself, the noncustodial parent, and the state. The noncustodial parent is expected to live on half of one income.
The various anti-father arguments related to custody contradict each other.
5) Mothers provide more care to their kids so maternal custody is in the best interest of the child.
This relies on treating paternal nurturing as less impacting and less valuable than maternal, and while it’s an old belief, it’s an argument feminist groups like the National Organization for Women have used to directly attack proposed equally shared parenting bills. Their argument excludes time fathers spend with children if that time isn’t considered a type of work, arbitrarily devaluing, for instance, a father-child conversation that occurs during a game of pitch-and-catch in relation to a mother-child conversation over lunch or chores. Rather than a legitimate argument, this is a prime example of feminism’s gynocentric approach to everything.
6) Gender roles in a patriarchal society are the reason more mothers than fathers get custody.
First, this and the above argument can’t both be true. However, it should still be addressed.
The legal presumption that women are naturally better caregivers, used as a determining factor in the decision of child custody, is rooted in 19th century feminist activism. Caroline Norton wrote the bill which would become The Custody of Infants Act of 1839, from which the Tender Years Doctrine was drawn. Today’s version is the Best Interest of the Child standard, which presumes maternal custody to be in the best interest of the child. Men’s rights activists have lobbied for laws that would make equal parenting time the default in uncontested divorce cases. Feminist organizations vehemently opposed the effort, demonizing fathers as deadbeats and abusers as part of their argument. While gender roles may have been used to achieve those victories, “patriarchal society” is not to blame.
7) Custody is agreed upon or settled by parents themselves 91% of the time, usually without outside mediation.
The “most men don’t ask for custody” canard relies on excluding the experiences of men whose children are born out of wedlock, and treating the experiences of low income men as if they have the resources to fight a custody battle. They’re aware that the default is maternal custody and they’ll have to put up an expensive legal fight just to defend their value as parents. That combination of social attitudes and lack of resources puts men at a disadvantage. They know if they lose the mother gets custody and control. This provides the mothers of their children with leverage to coerce men into less than satisfactory custody agreements for fear of losing what little contact those agreements will give them. And custodial and primary residential mothers have worked very hard to prove those fathers right. Custodial interference is common behavior among custodial and primary residential mothers.
8) Fathers win custody 70% of the time when they ask for it
This was debunked years ago by the author of Breaking the Science in the article Misrepresentation of Gender Bias in the 1989 Report of the Gender Bias Committee of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court , and linked analysis which show (among other things) that not only do fathers not win custody 70% of the time, according to the report from which that canard was interpreted, the rate at which mothers’ requests for sole custody were honored is 65% higher than the comparable rate for fathers’ requests. In other words, to defend against the claim that mothers monopolize child custody, groups opposing father’s rights have been citing a report that highlighted a higher rate of awarded custody to mothers.
Overreaching government agencies
The family court system exists today more to feed government employment than protect and provide for children, and it is definitely stacked against dads. Its design results in discrimination against fathers both in terms of custody and child support. Further, feminist organizations have defended that discriminatory system to the point of lobbying against any change that would eliminate discrimination against fathers.
If children’s best interests are truly the focus of the laws, this has to end. Studies have shown that removing the father from a child’s life and treating him like a walking wallet instead of a parent is damaging, resulting in an increase in a child’s likelihood to become an unwed parent, end up dependent on welfare, and get into trouble with the law. It is clear that the best interest of the child would better be served by cooperative, equal parenting. The question is, how hard are fathers’ groups going to have to battle against feminist opposition for the legal reform needed to make that possible?
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