Is Child Support Enforcement Working?

If you care about making child support work better, you need to read this thoughtful commentary from Tonyaa Weathersbee on BlackAmericaWeb.com. Citing research from the Urban Institute finding that more than 70 percent of back child support is owed by men making $10,000 per year or less, she processes it this way:

Of course, one obvious lesson here is that men, especially those with low incomes, shouldn’t make children that they aren’t going to be able to care for. But the fact that aggressive child support enforcement hasn’t stopped poor men from making babies says a lot. It says that you have black men who are struggling to prove themselves in a society that devalues them. It says that they, like many of the black women whom they impregnate, prove themselves through having children. It tells me that poor black men and women want what the rest of the society has, regardless of whether their dreams are supported by the social and economic infrastructure that surrounds them.

But then reality hits – the reality that says having children means working and supporting them. And apparently, it’s a reality that not a lot of struggling black men can handle.

This column is not intended to excuse deadbeat dads. I believe the ones who simply refuse to pay ought to be punished. And not all states are so inflexible when it comes to collecting child support debt. In Gardner’s situation, for example, in New York – where the law allows judges to reduce payments based on the man’s ability to pay – the court was prepared to give him his license back if he began paying his child support to his former wife. But because it can’t find her, the deal fell through.

Still, it does nothing to strengthen the relationship between black men and their children when child support laws in many states are so rigid that it does the opposite of what it is intended to do: make men live up to their parental obligation.

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