So-called Men’s Rights groups think of child support as a charge women impose on men. Edwin Lyngar’s experience didn’t resemble their ideas at all.
Writing this piece has reminded me how much I appreciate having a place like the Good Men Project, a place where men can talk about our issues in a positive, constructive way.
When I first got divorced in 2003, I looked for support from many traditional men’s rights groups. You can find them with a simple web search, and there are dozens that focus on the problems of men and family court. Even a cursory glance will give you a good idea of the common themes, issues like shared parenting, parental alienation syndrome and visitation after divorce. I am extremely sympathetic to many of the issues listed, but one of the biggest complaints of “traditional” men’s groups I think is nonsense: The issue of child support.
Divorce forums are full of men complaining about child support. I understand that it’s a burden. The debt can’t be discharged and you can get thrown in the slammer if you don’t pay, and losing a job is a big problem. However, it’s more troubling that so many children live in poverty following divorce. According to the latest census report, 29% of children living with a single parent lived in poverty (versus 19% of from all other households).
After my own divorce, I sought out men’s groups, but I quickly soured on them, and child support was a big reason. You see, I had full custody of my two kids, aged three and nine, and I was a (theoretical) child support collector. But during the first three years after my divorce, my child support amounted to shit, compared with what it cost to raise kids. My ex-wife paid only three hundred dollars a month for two kids and the checks were always late. My daughter’s day care was six hundred a month, so child support paid roughly half of one bill. On top of it, we constantly fought and argued over that measly three hundred bucks.
What’s worse is that the myopic focus on child support muddies the real issue of equal treatment of men in family court. I can say, without a doubt, that I was treated with suspicion in family court. The judge could not comprehend why my ex-wife gave up the kids and the house. Family court can often assume the best of the mom and the worst about dad. Because of my own experience, I didn’t even try to enforce child support or ask for a reasonable amount. My kids suffered because of my cowardice.
When I remarried a few years after my divorce, my new wife (an attorney) told me about child support enforcement. One visit downtown (and two very painful hearings later) and I finally fixed the situation. The state collects the money and gives it to me. I don’t have to ask, deal with bounced checks or argue with my ex-wife anymore. In fact, it’s been years since I have. My later experiences have been more than fair—the system has even been kind to me.
Resentment lingers for some groups over the issue of child support. To those fathers, I would ask: Why should I have to crawl to my ex-wife and beg for money? Why then should any single mom have to beg money from her ex-husband to raise their children?
She shouldn’t, nor should I.
It costs a fucking fortune to raise kids (almost a quarter million dollars per kid by some estimates). Both parents should be responsible even when it hurts. I am still paying way more to raise our remaining shared child than I’ll ever see in child support, which is exactly what I signed up for when I had children!
Many years ago, my own father heard someone complain about child support and he scoffed. “I paid every dime I earned to raise kids. I wish I would have just had a monthly payment.” I never forgot his observation, because it’s so true. Child support seems unfair, but every good parent gives every cent he or she can to raise children. That’s the deal when you become a dad or mom. My own years as single father were lean, hard times. I wore shit, drove shit and ate shit, but I’ll never regret one moment of it.
Whether you pay or collect child support, we all have to do what it takes. As divorcees say a thousand times to children, “It’s not your fault.” Just because we parents couldn’t keep our shit together is no reason to let our offspring live in poverty. So just pay your fucking bills, and let’s get to solving some real problems.