Australia’s Courier Mail is pleased to promote the myth of the deadbeat parent. Here’s its latest effort (Courier Mail, 1/27/12).
It’s a staple of the U.S. news media that, although the term “deadbeat dad” has fallen out of favor, the myth persists that parents, and particularly fathers, routinely don’t pay their child support, not because they can’t, but because they’re too callous toward their kids to care. Of course there doubtless are such people, but overwhelmingly, they’re the exception, not the rule.
Still, the media like nothing better than a tale of the perverse and hardhearted working their evil schemes against the innocent and long-suffering. So, in their telling, it’s Snidely Whiplash turning Little Nell out into the cold, hungry and unshod.
Into the bargain, we’re asked to believe that these non-custodial parents have plenty of money that they manage to hide from the courts, taxing authorities and child support enforcement agencies. So certain are the media that these wealthy parents abound that they’ve convinced legislatures to pass laws allowing for the imputation of income to non-custodial parents. That way, the little matter of not having a job in the worst economy since the 30s won’t prevent a judge from ordering unpayable child support anyway.
The notion that these parents are likely to have vast sums of money squirreled away in the mattress is right up there with the myth of the “welfare Cadillac.” It’s almost never the case, but there’s just enough truth to it to keep the myth alive.
And that’s where the linked-to story starts.
PARENTS shunning child-support payments while living it up have been spied on by the Federal Government, with Queensland parents boasting some of the nation’s biggest debts.Pretty lurid stuff, right? Well, maybe not so lurid after all.
Private detectives using video surveillance techniques have spied on 64 of Australia’s worst debtors, who are suspected to be living the high life at the expense of meeting child-support financial requirements while they operate lucrative cash-in-hand businesses.
Reading further we find that the article mentions no names, no arrests, indeed nothing whatsoever to indicate that a single such parent, “living it up” at the expense of Little Nell, was ever actually found. No, it cites some figures about how much is owed all together, and how much that is per debtor. But there’s not a word to suggest that any of those owing support are actually able to pay.
Indeed, they’ve only actually spied on 64 parents in all of Australia. In Queensland alone, there are some 54,000 parents behind on their payments. New South Wales adds another 60,000 to the total and Victoria another 42,000. Out of those and many more, the government gumshoes are checking out a grand total of 64 people who may be able to pay.
Truth to tell, Queensland’s payment rate turns out to be pretty good. Some 70% of Queensland parents are paid up to date on their support obligations. Compared to the United States, that’s a stellar performance. Here, the Census Bureau reports that only about 42% are paid up.
There are truths about child support that the MSM don’t seem particularly interested in letting the general public know. And that’s not because the information isn’t readily available. The Office of Child Support Enforcement and the Census Bureau are just a few clicks of a mouse away, but reporters can’t be bothered to, literally, lift a finger.
Besides, the myth of the deadbeat parent is just too enticing. I suppose it satisfies our desires for a Dickensian world of villains and the virtuous. And the truth is too complicated and nuanced to hold the media’s interest.
I suspect what’s true in the U.S. is true in Australia as well. Here, the OCSE reports that 64% of those in arrears on their payments report earning less than $10,000 per year. Sweeps of child support debtors conducted by law enforcement routinely gross a few cents on the dollar. For example, New Jersey manages to collect but one cent for every dollar owed by those facing jail if they don’t pay up. What does that tell you about their ability to pay?
The little matter of visitation is essentially never mentioned by the press in dealing with child support issues. It’s true that a mother’s right to receive child support from a father isn’t conditioned on her allowing him access to the child. But Arizona State University researcher Sanford Braver and others have shown time and again that fathers who pay tend strongly to be those whose wives don’t interfere with visitation. So for each story of a man who doesn’t pay, there’s potentially an inside story of a mother who feels free to keep the guy out of his child’s life. But the media ignore the latter story.
Then there are the courts that refuse to enforce visitation. That tells the dad loudly and clearly that, to them and to the mother, he’s a wallet, not a father. Those repeated slaps in the face understandably breed resentment which in turn leads to non-payment.
Last is the fact that, in the U.S. at least, mothers are significantly less likely to pay support than are fathers. Again, the Census Bureau data show that plainly, but, as with the rest of the story, the media aren’t interested.
They’re probably too busy to look into those matters. After all, they’re still trying to find the wealthy dad, “living it up” while his child goes without. But come to think of it, he should be easy to locate; he’s the guy with the welfare Cadillac in the garage.