Academic journal article Fordham Journal of Corporate & Financial Law

An End to the Deadbeat Dad Dilemma?-Puncturing the Paradigm by Allowing a Deduction for Child Support Payments

Academic journal article Fordham Journal of Corporate & Financial Law

An End to the Deadbeat Dad Dilemma?-Puncturing the Paradigm by Allowing a Deduction for Child Support Payments

Article excerpt

I. INTRODUCTION: THE POLICY RATIONALE FOR A CHILD SUPPORT DEDUCTION

Bobby Brown, the once famous R&B singer, is the new symbol of the deadbeat dad, having been arrested several times for failing to pay child support.1 Could the tax system be used to help fathers like Brown meet their obligations? Would this be a wise redistribution of public assets? Would this be helpful to children? This Article addresses these questions.

Children are our future, literally. We profess this sentiment in our songs,2 evidencing, among other things, its universality in our collective consciousness. "The duty of parents to provide shelter and sustenance to their dependents ... [is one of the] most fundamental and necessitous known to society, both animal and human."3 The evidence suggests that we are falling short on our obligations to children. While the United States spends $8 billion per month fighting which many deem an unpopular war in Iraq,4 tardy child support payments also tally in the billions.5 Failure to pay child support, called the largest single crime in America,6 and noted as one of the most pervasive acts of civil disobedience since prohibition and the anti-drug laws, persists.7 An estimated 75% to 87% of children in single parent households receive no financial support from their non-custodial parent.8 The scope of the problem is elucidated by the shocking fact that half of our nation's children, at some point in the next decade, will be eligible to receive child support.9

The United States is facing a real crisis regarding child support. To borrow an analogy from U.S. Sen. Barack Obama, although this may be a "quiet" crisis,10 it is nevertheless real and painful to millions of women, children, and men. Public action started in earnest in the 1980s when the federal government began to crack down on parents who do not make their mandated payments.11 Congress encouraged similar crackdowns at the state level by threatening to reduce federal subsidies.12 This effort has extended to all segments of the population, including some celebrities.13 In one high profile case, the irresponsible father went so far as to murder someone in order to shirk his fatherly duties.14

This Article does not eschew the term "deadbeat dad" in favor of more politically correct nomenclature (e.g., "deadbeat parent"), because the evidence still shows that the non-custodial parent of children indebted with child support payments remains, in large part, the father of the child.15 Yet, there exists another side to the story. The reality of the deadbeat dad might not be that repulsive. He has been described in more human terms as a man trying to make the best of a bad situation,16 as contemporary literature begins to debunk the myth of the deadbeat dad.17 Some have argued that the current legal system of child support enforcement is responsible for creating the deadbeat dad.18 The unique American family law system at the state level often bifurcates the rights and responsibilities of parents.19 The custodial parent is assigned the right of custody but often bears none of the financial responsibility to support the children, as that responsibility is assigned to the noncustodial parent who is denied the right to participate in the lives of the children.20 Some experts in the field have advanced the above reasoning as the cause for this large scale civil disobedience.21

Clearly, some fathers deserve the "deadbeat dad" moniker. One popular image is, for instance, those fathers who drive luxury cars while their children starve.22 This, however, is not the norm. The average father is responsible and wants to do the right thing, but there are strong forces against him, like the inability to pay.23 Survey after survey shows that custodial mothers report that the reason for lack of payment from the non-custodial father is that "he can't pay."24 Nevertheless, the authorities blindly continue to enforce child support payment debts and, in some cases, enforce them by imprisonment;25 in situations where the mother receives public aid, federal and state governments will provide the child support payment to the mother and hold the father indebted to the government for that amount. …

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