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On the Criminalization of Not Making Child Support Payments

Posted by Curt on Friday, 9 July 2010

If there’s one thing I absolutely do not understand, it’s the criminalization of failing to make child support payments.  The purpose of child support is clear: A monthly payment of some kind is required to ensure that the child has adequate funds.  Its purpose is a noble and important one, but when you criminalize it, even give jail time for failing to make these payments, what do they accomplish?  Seriously, if you put an individual behind bars for failing to make their child support payments, they’re hardly going to be in a position to keep on making more.  How is this in any way beneficial to the child in question?  Back payments hardly do the trick for past payments the child needed but did not receive.

To go even further on the point, many jobs will ask questions about whether or not you failed to make child support payments.  It puts a strike on your criminal record.  When that bars an individual from a job where child support payments don’t matter one bit, how exactly is that helping the child?  If anything it’s actually hurting the child by making it more difficult for the individual in question to meet their child support payments.

What do we achieve by criminalizing the failure to meet child support payments?

I delivered pizzas with a guy who had multiple children that he had to pay child support for.  In October 2008, he had lost his day job but, because those child support payments come first, he had to withhold on finding a place to live, having to live out of his car.  Often being in and out of work throughout his life (typical of construction work), he’s had various points in his life where he was unable to make his child support because he simply didn’t have the money and the courts wouldn’t adjust the amount of child support he owes (they made the decision on what it would be assuming that his construction work would always be there).  The result?  He’s been in and out of jail a lot as his ex-wife brings it to him whenever he can’t meet those payments.

Back in December 2008, the entire Seattle area had a major snowstorm.  Everything was screwed up.  Seattle, believe it or not, typically doesn’t get much snow; the snow we do receive is usually for a few days out of the whole year and pretty light.  But the snow we got that December was heavy and prolonged; few cities in the area were equipped to deal with a snowfall on that scale (the City of Seattle itself only has something like 13 or 14 snow plows total).  Needless to say, this made the roads very hazardous, and delivering pizzas, this was a big concern.  In an area as hilly as ours is, it was hard enough just making it out to the store, let alone driving in that snow for an entire shift.  I actually got stuck in the snow at one point during one of my shifts but was lucky enough to be rescued by a considerate neighbor in that area.

Of course, the days I went in and got stuck were the least hazardous days.  I called in refusing to come to work under those conditions, as did most people, including the individual who needed to make his child support payments.  And it made financial sense – the risk of wrecking your car in that kind of snow, where everybody drives like a Californian in the snow, is too great.  The result unsurprisingly is that he failed to make his child support payment and was put in jail yet again for a few months (but was released after a month).

Again, what do we achieve by putting that individual in jail because he couldn’t meet his child support payment?  What does the child achieve when he could have actually worked that month he was in jail and made it for that month?

If it’s not obvious already, I think the criminalization of failing to make child support payments is complete bullshit and hardly serves the interests of any child needing to receive them.  It does nothing but penalize the individual who couldn’t make them.  One could make the argument that this penalty creates an incentive for the individual to meet their child support payments, however, I’d argue that it doesn’t serve that purpose well at all – the hit on one’s credit rating alone, which is what should be the case when failing to make payments you are obliged to make, is enough to any honest person.  For the dishonest?  Those are typically the types who fail to meet child support payments already.

This graph is interesting, if a bit old (I believe more payments are being met now than 18 years ago). It shows that women are largely the receivers of child support, men are largely the payers. It also shows that men are far more likely to pay child support than women are when it is owed.

Let’s put the politics of child support in a gendered context.  The majority of individuals who pay child support are men, just as the majority of single parents are women.  Making child support payments is absolutely necessary; I doubt you’d get too many who would disagree.  But such harsh and unnecessary penalties for failing to make them?  It would almost appear to be a crackdown on a group of individuals composed largely of men, thus men in general, rather than being for any desire for any desires of social justice that would allow single parents and children to have the funds they need to get by; unless, of course, “social justice” in this context is righting a wrong by committing another wrong against a group who historically committed the previous wrongs, but I really doubt that’s the case for most.

In this sense, nobody should be surprised that men’s rights activists and others jump on the issue of child support and claim the system is rigged against men in a vindictive manner and is evidence of how expendable men as a collective are in society.  I’m not that bitter, though, and do not believe that applies to most (though the point about the expendability of men may well be valid; I’ll explore that later).  Rather, I simply think child support legislation has gone too far and is far too inflexible, and the ones who pay the price are men.  Feminists call on men to speak up about the injustices committed against them as a gender, and they do.  But few listen, and it is high time we talk about solutions to make child support fairer to all involved.

So allow me to start.  One solution I can think of would be where the state government has a fund which they pay to single parents each month (a flat rate to be decided on annually by certain indexes such as the cost of living index), where the individual who owes child support reimburses the state over a period of time (how quickly depends on his or her income).  The extra costs of conducting the program itself could be covered from interest on the payments.  Failure to meet these payments would result in a credit rating hit and certain legal methods to force the payment to be made rather than any criminal penalty.  This has the advantage in that not only is the single parent and child guaranteed an adequate payment each month (decided by cost of living factors, not by an individual’s income) but that the individual who pays child support has the option to pay it over a period longer than 18 years, as well as the fact that it allows for extreme circumstances (such as a snowstorm that causes one’s job to be closed) to be worked in if a payment is missed or the rate at which that individual pays back to be adjusted more easily and efficiently in case of something like a job loss or change of income.  One could even work in waiving any payments to the state if that individual is poor enough, making it essentially a form of welfare under that condition, though I’d personally disagree with doing that specifically (but it would be better than what we have now).

Do you agree that the criminalization of failing to meet child support payments is complete bunk and that the system is broken and unfair?  Do you think that it’s evidence of men being shafted by society?  And more importantly, do you have any solutions to make it fairer to all involved?  It’s certainly a conversation we need to have.

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2 Responses to “On the Criminalization of Not Making Child Support Payments”

  1. Anonymous said

    The fact that you actually believe what you’re saying makes it even worse. LOLOLOL

  2. Anonymous said

    Fully support the abolition of child support. If you cant earn enough of your own steam to provide for the family (like men are expected to do) then you cant provide your family. Simple.

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