Sigh. The Guardian never seems to disappoint. If you’re looking for a one-sided anti-father screed, The Guardian is usually happy to comply and this article is no exception (The Guardian, 5/8/19).
The subject is child support; the point of view: fathers are a sneaky lot who bend heaven and earth to avoid paying child support; this leaves custodial mothers living in poverty; and the child support bureaucracy is no help.
Needless to say, only one father is interviewed and he’s pretty happy with his situation. That leaves all the complaining to be done by mothers and others who criticize the system.
Now, doubtless, the system needs criticism. I’m sure the trauma described by the article of a mother trying to get some sort of action out of the massive Australian Child Support Agency is very hair-pullingly real. I sympathize with anyone faced with that.
But guess what. Custodial fathers have the same problems with mothers who don’t pay that mothers have with fathers who don’t. But that reality is found nowhere in the article. Indeed, if the article were the only information you had about child support in Australia, you’d justifiably conclude that only fathers are required to pay and only mothers are recipients. You have to read fairly deep into the comments at the bottom of the piece to hear from fathers who’ve been stiffed by their exes. For example:
My ex-wife kept one promise in our marriage. Just before our divorce, after I had been given sole parental responsibility, she promised I would not receive one cent of child support. She quit her job (nearly $100,000p.a as a chef). I found out all of the names she was working under and the bank accounts she was getting money into and gave that information to the Child Support Agency. Their first response was that I should be paying child support! Finally managed to convince then that the Family Law Court decision, had they read it in the first place, gave me custody and not her. Then the CSA suggested I not claim child support.Now, I don’t have Australian data on child support at my fingertips, but if they’re anything like they are here in the U.S., non-custodial mothers there are significantly less likely to pay what they owe than are non-custodial fathers. Here, mothers are less likely to be ordered to pay child support at all and when they are, they’re ordered to pay less than are fathers. Even at that, they pay less of what they owe than do fathers.
Specifically, as of 2015, the Census Bureau reported that 52.7% of NC fathers were ordered to pay support versus just 39.6% of mothers. Those fathers were ordered to pay $5,789 per year on average versus $5,600 for mothers. And fathers paid an average of $3,491 (60.3% of what they owed) versus $3,200 (57.1%) for NC mothers.
So if there’s a problem of non-custodial parents not paying to support their children (and there is), the problem lies at least as much with mothers’ failure to pay as with fathers. And yet the very concept is ignored by The Guardian.
Meanwhile, in order to grab readers’ sympathies, the article begins and ends with “Amanda,” a custodial mother with a daughter who’s about to start school. We’re told that she lives at or near the poverty line and that her ex understates his income to reduce his child support obligation to her.
But amazingly, the article that goes into his income in some detail never mentions hers. There’s nothing to suggest she’s disabled or impaired, only that she barely makes ends meet despite receiving at least $1,500 per month in governmental housing subsidies. The simple fact is that next to no one who’s able-bodied and reasonably well educated need live in poverty with just one child and herself to house, clothe and feed. The article is intent on convincing readers that the fault lies with Amanda’s ex, but makes no effort to explain how or why his payment of $579 per month is the only thing that keeps the wolf from her door.
Then there’s the vital matter of access to the child. It’s a vital matter because we know from well-established research that NC parents who don’t find their access to their children obstructed are far more willing and likely to pay than are those who do. Is refusal of access part of the child support problem in Australia? My guess is it is. I do so because, as historian John Hirst has pointed out, Australian courts are uniquely unwilling to enforce orders of visitation. Indeed, as a matter of policy and precedent, they simply don’t do it. Alone among all the orders issued by Australian courts, those for child access are not enforced by the courts’ power of contempt.
So if there is a problem with child support payment, one obvious place to attack it would be there. Not a word about the refusal to enforce visitation appears in The Guardian’s article.
That of course brings us to shared parenting. By itself, a general rule giving equal time to each parent would greatly reduce the need for child support. Parents could simply bear the costs incurred during their time with the child and equally share occasional or special expenses. That would leave both parents with time to work and earn, neither being saddled with so much parenting time as to make it hard to work and earn enough for a decent lifestyle. If mothers bear most of the brunt of whatever problems beset the child support system, it’s because courts hand them the lion’s share of the parenting time. Fix the latter and we’d go a long way toward fixing the former.
Needless to say, The Guardian has never said a good word about equal parenting and of course the latest guidance offered to the Australian government is dead set against equal parenting following divorce or separation.
So there we have it: an article whose main mission is to flay fathers and complain about child support, all the while ignoring changes to the system that would make matters better for everyone.
In short, a classic Guardian piece.