One day I may post a blog describing my research on why the methods that South Carolina uses to collect back child support (sarcastically referred to as “Daddy Round-Ups”) are an improper use of the court’s civil contempt powers. However, even if the current uses of civil contempt to collect back child support are improper, I have great sympathy for the (mostly) mothers not receiving their court ordered support. Our culture and our law have lied to them.
A few years back I volunteered for a “support collection hotline” run by a local television station. The questions from these women fell into few discrete categories, none of which posed any difficulties answering:
Q: The daddy moved out of state. How do I get my support collected?
A: Register the order in the state where he lives for enforcement.
Q: The daddy is unemployed and making little money. How do I get him to pay support?
A: All you can do is enforce the order and hope that jail shakes some money loose.
Q: I cannot locate the daddy. How do I get support paid?
A: Until daddy can be located, there’s no way to get support from him.
Q: The daddy is in jail and unemployed. I am not getting my support. How can I get my support?
A: There’s no way I know of to get support from an incarcerated, unemployed father.
Often their responses to my answers indicated they had heard these answers before but were holding out hope that I might offer a magic solution to their (legitimate) problems. I would try to offer sympathy but these women did not need (or want) my sympathy–they wanted their money. Their mounting anger and frustration from my answers made it clear that I was not providing these women the relief they were seeking. Occasionally that station seeks my assistance as they hold another hotline and I decline. The initial experience was simply too frustrating for me, and too disappointing for these women, to engage a repeat performance.
There are lies we (and our culture) tell these women. It is a lie is that the family court has the power to make an irresponsible person into a responsible father. It is a lie that we have the power to turn someone interested in easy sex into a caring daddy. Yes, there are men who deliberately pursue wedlock and fatherhood and then fall down in their responsibilities, but in my experience they are the small minority in two senses: a small minority of the fathers who chose wedlock and parenting and small minority of the fathers who fail in the responsibility of being fathers.
Until about forty years ago we told girls entering puberty to be careful about with whom they had sexual relations and strongly encouraged them to remain chaste until marriage. There was (some) wisdom to this. In that culture, a man willing to marry was probably interested in being a father and a man unwilling to marry was probably not interested in being a father. Women are the gender gestating babies and, unless the culture changes rapidly, will be the primary caretakers for children born out of wedlock for the foreseeable future. They will carry the burden of raising children with minimal support if the father is not responsible.
Warning unmarried women to be careful about with whom they have sexual intercourse and whose child they bear may seem an act of cultural conservativism but our failure to warn these women of our limited ability to ameliorate the problems that come from bearing children with irresponsible or uninterested men is even worse. The law does not have the power to make irresponsible people act responsibly: it is a lie and an act of cruelty to pretend otherwise.