McHenry County Sheriff Nygren’s decision to publicly humiliate deadbeat parents, who according to the courts owe between $5,346 and $41,192 in child support payments, is alarming. It seems odd that only fathers are posted when non-custodial mothers are 20% more likely to default on their childsupport obligations according to US Census Data.
The deadbeat dad stereotype is a distortion and it perpetuates the many myths surrounding child support. The vast majority of men who fail to pay their child support do so because of unemployment or poverty. Fathers who have in the past paid child support promptly are now faced with a chilling question: “Do I pay childsupport, or do I eat?” Since Illinois law requires parents to pay between 20 to 50 percent of their income, how much is left to survive after a $650 unemployment check?
It’s no surprise that “deadbeat dads” have been the headliner of multiple stories across the country for decades. We’re often reminded by the media’s highlights of the few fathers who don’t pay versus the many who struggle to support their children. These stereotypes shouldn’t be highlighted or ignored, they should be eliminated.
The facts show that fathers in financial peril are far from “deadbeat”. In fact, the Federal Office of Child Support Enforcement data shows that two-thirds of those behind on child support nationwide earn poverty level wages; less than four percent of the national childsupport debt is owed by those earning $40,000 or more a year. According to the largest federally-funded study of divorced dads ever conducted, unemployment, not willful neglect, is the largest cause of failure to pay child support. As Illinois surpasses the 10.5 percent unemployment rate, these facts cannot be ignored.
While the label of “deadbeat parents” does apply to some parents who willfully dodge their responsibility of support, it is not gender specific. The larger problem lies not with non-custodial parents, but instead with the child support system. Arresting low-income parents or parading their names and faces in highly publicized media blitzes is neither fair nor useful. What’s needed instead is an overhaul of the system, so that unemployed and underemployed workers aren’t turned into criminals because they’ve failed to pay obligations which are beyond their reach. Especially now, the system should work to help fathers support their children so they still have the means to support themselves. We must eliminate the need of focusing on “deadbeat” and help “dead-broke” parents and fathers in caring for what they love most – their children.