The Bridge: Making Daddy Pay

By Darryl James

In this nation, violent crimes typically work their way through the underclass, who are both the majority of victims and perpetrators.

Over the past forty years, more and more youth who are born into underclass families tumble further away from upward mobility.  These fallen youth have little motivation to become productive members of society, leaning more toward gangs, violent crime and drugs than education and participation in the workforce.

In study after study, this trend has been linked directly to the decline in the number of fathers present in the lives of underclass children.

When fathers are in the home, boys are taught self control, which is crucial in their teen years. Without limits set by a stable male figure, many young boys have difficulty determining where the world begins and where they end.

And, having fathers around provides healthy role models for boys who are able to imagine what their future lives can be like based upon a stable adult male figure. A young man is able to make the transition to husband, father and productive member of society when an example is in his life.

Without such examples, negative role models become the standard bearers, including gang members, pimps, thugs and other scourges from the bottom of society.

What does this mean?

It’s simple: Even if a man can not pay child support, his presence in the lives of his children is better for society overall.

At some point we must ask ourselves why the child support system focuses on the idea that a father’s best contribution is financial.  Very little effort is spent toward assuring that children have emotional and/or physical connections to fathers whether they are paying child support or not.

Sadly, the goal for most existing laws and efforts are simply to “make him pay,” including laws suspending driver’s licenses and providing access to bank accounts.  But making him pay does very little for making him present.  In fact, focusing on making him pay may actually assure that he won’t be present.

Focusing on making him pay has failed.

Ten years ago, $31 billion was in arrears on child support, according to the federal government.  By 2003, that number had soared to $96 billion, along with the number of fathers in jail and/or out of the workforce.

Further evidence that the “make him pay” focus has failed was found by the Urban Institute, a Washington think tank.  According to the Urban Institute, current measures designed to coerce fathers to pay child support has played a “crucial role” in forcing low-income Black men from 25 to 34 out of the workforce altogether.

The end result of aggressive child support collection is often the flight of fathers from financial burden that may be overwhelming and/or insurmountable.

The system is so anxious to make him pay, that it often holds men financially responsible without their knowledge and without them actually being fathers.

A bill named for Senator Bill Bradley (D-New Jersey), dictates that once a man is assigned financial responsibility, he can not even go to court to have it reduced or erased.

The amendment keeps fathers up under child support even if it is determined that they are not the biological parent.  This is really disturbing, when according to a report by the Los Angeles Times, roughly 70% of fathers are not in court when paternity is established and their monthly obligations are determined.

Fathers who are not present may not even know that they owe child support, and worse, according to that same LA Times report, “on average, more than 350 men every month are incorrectly named as fathers.”

Going back to the Bradley Amendment, those fathers are still held under retroactive child support orders, even after being determined not to be fathers.

There are no legal measures to seek the actual father, or to garner the physical presence of either the biological father, or the father who is being forced to pay child support.

And, in many cases, the mother has no idea who the father is.  This situation has lead to alarming “solutions” within the law.  In some states, financial responsibility is assigned to men who just happen to be around when the woman gets pregnant, whether it is his biological child or not.

The best example of this case is when a couple is married, but the wife has sex with someone other than the husband and produces a child.  Even after the couple divorces and even if DNA tests prove that someone else is the father, the ex-husband can still be assigned fatherhood and child support. And, in most cases, judges will refuse to end established child support, claiming that responsibility must remain with the only father the child has ever known.

We know that there are plentiful measures designed to make him pay, but where are the measures designed to make him present?

Sadly, there are few.

This is not only in reference to measures which would urge fathers to be present in the lives of their children, but also measures designed to enforce custody rights of non-custodial fathers.

Governments provide custodial parents with free assistance in locating the so-called “Deadbeat Dad,” to make him pay, but no state will assist a non-custodial father with locating a mother who has skipped town with the child.

Can society assure that more fathers will be present in the lives of children?

Yes.  But that will require that we change our minds about the propaganda disseminated about the so-called “Deadbeat Dad.”  Even though we can prove that the system allows fraudulent assignment of child support, and that very few men actually want to walk away from their children, some people will continue to babble on with their negative views of single fathers-based on rumors and innuendo, not fact.

Securing more fathers in the lives of children will also require that society’s focus actually be placed on making fathers present as opposed to making them pay.  Even though it has been proven that making him pay has failed, society dredges on with the prosecution of impoverished fathers for debts which continue to go uncollected.

And, finally, if we wish to see more fathers in the lives of children, we must stop the Welfare System from supplanting the father as breadwinner of the family.

In some ways, society is waking up to the fact that making him pay has not made him present and that the system needs to be changed.

The times, they are a’ changin’.  Proof comes from mothers who not only care about their children, but about the relationships those children have with their fathers.

For example, Jacqueline Kennedy, an unwed mother from Los Angeles, told the Los Angeles Times that she prefers personal involvement to child support from her child’s father.

“He calls. He sends cards. He’s an excellent father,” said Kennedy, who supports her family with her job as a child-care worker. “You don’t have to be together to raise a child. Women need to get off Aid to Families With Dependent Children and stop thinking about fathers paying child support. What makes a good father is whether he gets involved.”

Children have needs.

Fathers should pay when they can.  So should mothers. So should society.

Fathers can’t carry children in a womb, but once a child is in the world, fathers can provide nurturing and support to children in a way that is as necessary as the nurturing and support a mother provides.

That is more about being around than being a cash machine.

Darryl James is an award-winning author of the powerful new anthology “Notes From The Edge.” Now, listen to Darryl live on every Monday from 7-9pm, PST. View previous installments of this column at Reach James at

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