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March 09, 2006

Deadbeat dad: Choice negates child support


Steve Gilliard points to the case of the deadbeat dad who says he shouldn't have to pay child support because his ex-girlfriend could have aborted his daughter:

NEW YORK - Contending that women have more options than they do in the event of an unintended pregnancy, men's rights activists are mounting a long shot legal campaign aimed at giving them the chance to opt out of financial responsibility for raising a child.

The National Center for Men has prepared a lawsuit — nicknamed Roe v. Wade for Men — to be filed Thursday in U.S. District Court in Michigan on behalf of a 25-year-old computer programmer ordered to pay child support for his ex-girlfriend's daughter. The suit addresses the issue of male reproductive rights, contending that lack of such rights violates the U.S. Constitution's equal protection clause.

The gist of the argument: If a pregnant woman can choose among abortion, adoption or raising a child, a man involved in an unintended pregnancy should have the choice of declining the financial responsibilities of fatherhood. The activists involved hope to spark discussion even if they lose. [AP]

I think the People's Front of Judea have the right idea:

LORETTA:It's every man's right to have babies if he wants them.

REG: But... you can't have babies.

LORETTA: Don't you oppress me.

REG:I'm not oppressing you, Stan. You haven't got a womb! Where's the foetus going to gestate?! You going to keep it in a box?!


JUDITH:Here! I-- I've got an idea. Suppose you agree that he can't actually have babies, not having a womb, which is nobody's fault, not even the Romans', but that he can have the right to have babies.

[Life of Brian, Scene 7]

I'm a firm believer in equal rights. I agree that every pregnant man has the right to an abortion! (This is the safe, legal, and very, very, very rare kind.) Or, not to give birth if he doesn't want to. His body isn't the property of his wife or his girlfriend. She shouldn't be allowed to force him to carry the pregnancy. Nor should she be able to leave the child destitute if he makes her a mother before she's ready.

If I ever knock up a guy, and he decides to have the baby, I solemnly pledge to pay my child support on time, in full, every month. Even if I don't want to be a mother. And yes, even if he told me he couldn't get pregnant!


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» I suppose this makes me a masculist as well as a feminist from Grendel's Kitchen
Im with Lindsey on this one: Im a firm believer in equal rights. I agree that every pregnant man has the right to an abortion! (This is the safe, legal, and very, very, very rare kind.) Or, not to give birth if he doesn’t want to. His ... [Read More]


That was good for a laugh.Thank you. God bless Montey Python. I had forgotten that part.

You told me you loved me, Lindsay, and now I've got another bun in the oven and you just don't care! Sure, you get to stay out all night with your girlfriends while I take care of Lindsay Junior's ear infection. Well I've had enough, Miss Woman! If you've got enough money to swill banana daquiris and shove $5 bills into Chippendale dancers' g-strings with the rest of the gals into the wee hours of the morning, then you have enough cash to pay child support, missy!

When will women ever understand what we men go through for them?

Thats crazy, it's your kid, you did it, pay for it like a man. See it's guys like that that give us all a bad name.

John, shhh. The ladies are talking.

Lindsay, I was thinking about watching a movie tonight and your post reminded me that it's been way too long since I've seen Life of Brain. Look what influence blogs have!

I am torn on this.

On one hand, the logic of the men's rights folks does seem to hold some water, as a reciprocal to abortion. I can't imagine that there has never been a man that has had a woman abort a pregnancy that he started, and wished that she hadn't.

On the other hand, this just doesn't feel correct. One, the guy is probably a dickwad who is not telling the entire truth. I get that gut feeling about the situation. Now, people being dickwads or not should, in an ideal world, not be a matter for justice. But this shouldn't be the whole story. Justice is about right outcomes, and leaving the woman with a choice between a badly supported upbringing for a child she wants or the ending of a pregnancy she would prefer to carry does not feel like the proper choice for the child (who, by a woman's election to complete a pregnancy, is likely to come into being regardless of other particulars of the situation.) A woman ending a pregnancy that a man would prefer to see carried to completion does not feel entirely correct, either- but the man is not physically in an identical situation.

So, I am inclined to oppose this man's bid to evade child support. It is not an unequivocal decision on my part, however.

There is some real logic to both what you have to say and what the National Center for Men has to say, your argument moreso. But here's the problem with it: it's the same argument that the anti-gay rights folks use to oppose gay marriage. Gays and lesbians have the same rights as everyone else: they have the right to marry someone of the opposite sex, just like the rest of us. Is that really adequate protection of equal rights?

Obviously the situations aren't perfectly analagous, but there seems to be a certain bit of the one in the other.

The only people we hate more than the Romans are the F-ing Judean People's Front.

Perianwyr, I agree that this guy is an unfortunate victim of circumstances. His ex may also have betrayed his trust. Like you, I have my doubts about his story.

Ultimately, the legal system can't be expected arbitrate disagreements stemming from private conversations about who allegedly communicated what to whom about fertility status, contraception, and/or intent to carry a pregnancy to term.

I think it's disgusting that the guy is appealing to the equal protection clause. If he got his way, he would create an unequal class of innocent children based on whether their father felt like supporting his children. Thereafter, any guy who didn't want to pay child support could evade his responsibilities by registering his preference that his partner abort their child--even if he knew she had no intention of doing so.

It's not the child's fault that it had an irresponsible father and/or mother. Ultimately, the responsibility is between the father and his child. The fact that the mother cast the deciding vote in this scenario is irrelevant. The fact remains that the father had sex knowing not only that he might get his girlfriend pregnant, but also that she has the final say about about an abortion. If you know that you might become a dad whether you like it or not and you have sex anyway, the consequences are your problem.

The difference between the gay marriage issue and the child support issue is that civil marriage is an institution that we define. There's no good reason to include a special proviso about the genders of the people getting married. Whereas, there's nothing we can do about the asymmetry between males and females with regard to bearing children. Even if we could create complete symmetry there would still be problem of having an even number of parents. Parent A wants to have the baby, parent B doesn't--you've got an impasse. Somebody has to make the final decision and justice and pragmatism dictate that it's the person who's pregnant. Once the baby is born, the parents are back on an equal footing. If the dad wants custody and the mom wants to "walk away" then the mom should be forced to pay child support (or vice versa).

I've never fathered a child, so I have no burning need to address this, but this:

>whether their father felt like supporting his children.

seems to presuppose that every father who doesn't pay is choosing luxury for himself instead of paying. Surely there are lots of fathers who are simply too poor? And while I leave it to you guys to decide who's liable for the money, I have to say that the disgusting thing to me is that the entire issue revolves only around who pays the money. That's the thing that would burn me if I were a kid. For those fathers who just don't make enough money to pay child support, are they unwelcome to say, "well I have no money, but I'm here to spend some time with you"?? Sounds like a loving father is persona non grata to the single mother, if he has no money. But I suppose that's a tangent. Continue.

I don't think anybody's presupposing that all deadbeat dads are living in luxury. On the contrary, if I hear that a guy isn't paying his child support my default assumption is that he's pretty hard up himself. Really rich people pay for lawyers to get their child support payments changed. They don't just languish in contempt of court.

If someone is too poor to support his children, he can tell the court and get his child support payments adjusted. (I hear a lot of anecdotal evidence about family courts being systematically unfair to fathers or mothers, depending on the anecdote.) But in theory child support payments are supposed to reflect the parent's ability to pay.

This post is worth all the pixel it was posted on. Hilariously on the mark.

I hear a lot of anecdotal evidence about family courts being systematically unfair to fathers or mothers, depending on the anecdote.

Something about family court just breeds conspiracy theories. I guess it's the high emotional stakes. But I've dealt with a nearly endless supply of folks who think that whatever family court they were in must've just had some terrible bias against them for some reason.

"It's not the child's fault that it had an irresponsible father and/or mother. Ultimately, the responsibility is between the father and his child."

There seems to be an unquestioned assumption here: that it is "naturally" the case that parents are responsible for the support of their children. In fact, this is just one possible social response to the need for young humans to be care for by adults.

Think of the Israeli kibbutzim, or other models of communal living. The assumption there is that the care of the young is the responsibility of the community as a whole. Isn't this the nub of the notion that "it takes a village to raise a child."

The existence of public education is a testimony to this idea. I don't have kids, but it's my public responsibility to pax taxes to support schools, because education of children is important for the society as a whole.

You are right that it's not the child's fault that he or she had an irresponsible parent. But the assumption that parents, irresponsible or not, must bear the greatest burden for the support of their children, insures that the child will pay the price for that irresponsible parent.

Biological parents do bear more responsibility than anyone else for their own children--absent some explicit alternative arrangement. Obviously, we have a collective responsibility for children whose parents can't or won't care for them. However, unless you think that it's generally good for children to be raised by the state at large, you've got to have a default algorithm for assigning minor children to guardian/caretakers. The most rational rule is that bioparents take the lead unless they make socially acceptable alternate arrangements (kibbutz, adoption, foster care, etc.).

(I hear a lot of anecdotal evidence about family courts being systematically unfair to fathers or mothers, depending on the anecdote.)

conspiracy theories/emotional stakes/bias

That underscores the terrible nature of the issue: that the courts will never be a scalpel, they'll always be just a sledgehammer. It's in their nature to apply one-size-fits-all solutions to many-sized problems. Whatever the courts' solutions, they will cause major pain to real people. A shame, but it certainly argues for people resolving these things through mediation where possible (I don't know if divorce court allows that or not), before it gets that far.

I'm a bit torn too.

Suppose a woman deceives a guy? Now cummon, stop laughing. Really!

She says she's taking birth control and they're having sex for a year or so, successfully not getting pregnant. Then, she unilaterally decides to get pregnant. Knowing that he doesn't want kids, she stops the birth control and doesn't tell him.

Is he supposed to watch her take her pill daily or what?

Should he be liable?

As much as I laughed reading your post and as much as I despise the guy in question, I still think there is a serious question underneath. A related case occured a few years ago. A german girl had sex with a french guy, maybe with the intention of getting pregant. It was a one-nigh-stand. Then she went back to Germany, raised her child without ever telling the father. Then, twenty years later, she sued the father. As it is, the German law is kind of strict: you are the biological father of a child, you pay for it; you haven't until now, you make up for it (for the record, I favor this kind of law). So the woman won 20 years of child allowance from the guy (the European Union allows from this transfer of jurisdiction, so the fact that he guy was french and lived in France did not change anything). He appealed on the ground that he was perfectly willing to care for his child, but that it was unfair that he was deprived of relevant informaion. I feel some sympathy for that guy (I'm a man myself). I have the very strong belief that fathers should be required by law and feel morally obligated to be involved as much as they can in the care of their children. However, there is an asymetry. A woman not only decides to keep the baby or not, she also decides whether she is telling the father. This looks unfair to me. I believe women should at least be required to inform the father (in a reasonnable delay).

Yes, and both the poor and rich have the same right to live under the bridges at night.

Clearly, some think that the real importance of abortion as an egalitarian issue is that women get to choose when and if to take on the burdens of having a child. The NCM's demand seems consonant with that idea. The idea is that it seems important for women that they get to choose when they want to have kids. But if this is important to women, then why isn't it important to me?

The argument that men should suck it up and stop having sex or accept the consequences strikes me as pretty similar to the argument the pro-lifers make to women: suck it up or stop having sex.

But the reason the woman has the RIGHT to abort is that she has the right to determine what happens within her own body so far as she is able. If this is what we focus on, then their is no analogous male case.

It seems likely to me that the right to an abortion is clearly tied up with a certain right that people have about their BODIES. If so, then the men don't have a leg to stand on. But I don't think it is obviously absurd since a lot rhetoric about abortion seems to focus on the first part (not all or even a majority, certainly).

How is the idea that bioparents be the default caretakers for minor children more "rational" than the idea that, for example, grandparents are the default caretakers? It's more traditional in our society, certainly, and my argument is not that we should suddenly abadon such arrangements without alternatives. But there's no reason to pretend that this particular choice is more "rational" than many others that could be proposed, or that have been/are practiced in other places/at other times.

What if I said it was more "rational" to assume that parents should pay for their children's education, K through college?

Parse, in our society the default assumption is that parents want to become the primary caregivers/legal guardians of our own children. I'm not saying that this is the only way of doing things, but this basic assumption does have a lot to recommend it on both ethical and practical grounds. As a legal adult, I'd be quite taken aback if my parents were granted legal custody of my offspring without my consent. Sure, grandparents can be logical guardians for their grandchildren, but not obviously better targets than great aunts and uncles, the high school buddies of the parents, adoptive strangers, or whoever wants to step up and take responsibility.

I'm not saying that parents have sole responsibility for their own children, even if they choose to assume the usual parental role. Likewise, I don't believe that family ties automatically supersede the duties of citizenship. The whole point of a state is that we have mutual obligations to our fellow citizens over and above our ties to family and friends. That said, if you're setting up a system of government for a culture in which parents typically raise their biological children, the most logical option is to enforce that norm on reluctant parents instead of burdening the larger society or expecting children to be disadvantaged because of their irresponsible parents.

I don't think anybody's presupposing that all deadbeat dads are living in luxury.

Lindsay, of course not. That, and the idea that you'd be saying that men are worthless except as walking wallets, doesn't fit in at all with any other post you've ever made, and it would even be insulting to you to suggest that you feel that way. The line about "whether the father felt like supporting his children" just seemed to be leaving out the guy who wants to do his best, but is poor.

I think Z makes my other point: that in trying to protect Lindsay's good woman against the male deadbeat (for don't get me wrong, I know they certainly do exist), the EU court allowed this JERK of a woman, for so she is, to pop up and say "surprise! Pay Me." after 20 years, to, we assume, a decent man who had no way of knowing he had a child.

Who has twenty years worth of child support saved up and laying around? Women, do you? If the shoe were on the other foot (though it's biologically impossible--be thankful), and someone popped up and demanded tens of thousands of dollars from you immediately, would you have it? And, Lindsay's theoretical redress of unfairness provisions aside, I think theory bumps into practice with a loud crash when child support and lawsuits are concerned.

Andrew, I'd never presuppose that men are worthless except as walking wallets. However, a non-custodidal parent who won't contribute a meaningful percentage of their income to the support of their own child is probably seriously remiss--especially if they're trying to get a court to let them off the hook entirely because their child never should have been born. (Let's just assume for the sake of argument that we're talking only about people who acknowledge their maternity/paternity and who have an income that a court in their jurisdiction would deem sufficient to pay child support). The reality is that lots of people want to be parents (or reserve the option of being parents). Only a subset of those people are willing to make the day-to-day sacrifices it takes to be a decent parent. It's not all about money, but it would be hypocritical to pretend that money isn't important.

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