Non-Custodial Parents Often Can’t Support Themselves

Commentary by Mike

       Historian J. D. Unwin and sociologist Pitirim Sorokin, both world-renowned thinkers who have studied ancient civilizations, assert that “Nations most often fall from within, and this fall is usually due to a decline in the moral and spiritual values in the family. As families go, so goes a nation.” In his book Our Dance Has Turned to Death, author Carl Wilson also identifies a common pattern of family decline during the demise of ancient Greece and the Roman Empire. In the first stage, men ceased to lead their families in worship. In the second stage, men selfishly neglected care of their wives and children to pursue material wealth, political and military power, as well as cultural achievement. Material values begin to dominate thought, and men began to exalt their own roles as individuals over the importance of their families.

       Fast forward to today: Sunday church services in our urban churches around the nation today are largely attended by female worshipers. Travel through any African-American neighborhood, for example, and you’ll discover just as many houses of worship next door to one another as you will hair salons. For the record, the demographics of most religious institutions reflect a dominant female congregation devoid of a large numbers of young males. Is this evidence of our

decline as a nation? Why aren’t the majority of fathers leading their sons to worship? Where are they?

       According to a recent poll conducted by the National Fatherhood Institute, the time a father spends with his children is deemed more important for children than money or material gifts. While this nationally noted organization states the obvious, it also understands the benefits of monetary child support in sustaining a growing child’s well being when marriages or relationships collapse. But does mandated child support actually work in the best interests of children, or does it in actuality further the divide between the non-custodial parent and his offspring?

       Mandated Child Support is supposed to be a reasonable percentage of a person’s actual wages based on the number of children being supported. Once that amount is taken out of an individual’s wages, does that leave the non-custodial parent enough to “support” himself or herself? Does it matter to the enforcement agency if the non-custodial parent has enough to live on? The hard truth is that neither the enforcement agency nor the policymaker’s care what the providing parent has left. Many fathers’ rights advocates will attest to that. Modification of a payment plan takes a long time even if the non-custodial parent loses his or her employment, is incarnated or is injured on the job. God help you if you overpay; don’t expect a refund of your overpayment. 

       Many non-custodial fathers are forced to find second jobs in order to survive and not become homeless. Second jobs necessitated by exceedingly large child support payments severely limit the quality time a father has to spend with his kids at church, the ballpark or helping with homework. With the instability of the job market in this region, that foot forces the most well-intentioned father to put off establishing essential parent-child relationships. At this fifth stage of author Carl Wilson’s pattern of family decline, ex-lovers and partners, former husbands and wives are now pitted against each other, competing for money, home leadership, and the affection of their children.

       In the current environment, many children are left feeling unwanted, aborted, abandoned, pawned and undisciplined. These dispirited children grow into the neighborhood youth you see “hanging out on the corner” inches away from becoming delinquent, pregnant, drug offenders or possibly homeless.

      The television show Nightline refers to these disaffected youth as the “lost generation.” Aided by our current child support enforcement policy and procedures, the breakdown of our homes and family structure has produced anarchy. Just a quick view of our bustling prison system underscores this point. With urban sprawl, we’re now seeing this same phenomenon in the suburbs and rural areas. Adults are in- increasingly afraid of our youth. Our youth are increasingly angry. Our society has lapsed into neo-Jim Crow segregation patterns based on class as upwardly mobile families and jobs have fled Cleveland. Even the notion of child support has produced such a selfish individualism that it’s hard to hold a simple, civil conversation between men and women regarding the subject. Too often it grows into a hostile debate, crushing relationships into dust.

       Our nation has been weakened by this parental conflict of mom vs. dad. Where the problem may have initially arisen from personal issues, systemic policy and mandated enforcement orders have helped to weaken and erode the family structure as well. Our government needs a policy overhaul to rewrite child support in order to rebuild the family structure. Monetary support is just one facet of raising a child to adulthood. When a family matter becomes a legal matter and later a criminal matter perpetuated by penalties, service charges, and prison time, much is terribly wrong with the status quo. 

       The lessons of ancient Greece and Rome are still relevant today. Families are the bedrock of a nation. When the family crumbles, the nation falls. Nations are built upon family relationships, not just mandated monetary payments.

 Copyright Homeless Grapevine Issue 72 August 2005 Cleveland, Ohio.