Ending the Vicious Child Support Cycle

Many commentators have noted the police brutality angle of the Walter Scott shooting, but fewer have mentioned the reason that Walter Scott ran from the police in the first place. He was avoiding child support. Walter Scott had already been to jail for not paying child support, and he had lost his job when he went to jail, which of course made it more difficult for him to pay child support.

You can see how many child support arrests are actually counter-productive to their intent. If a person doesn’t have the money to pay child support, putting him in jail is not going to make that situation easier. It becomes a debtor’s prison. Most people can’t pay debts from prison for obvious reasons.

The newer child support laws were created to force fathers who could pay child support, but weren’t paying it, to cough up the dough. But what was initially designed to give child support enforcement some teeth has become a real menace to poor fathers:

. . . The vast majority of unpaid child support is owed by the very poor. A 2007 Urban Institute study of child support debt in nine large states found that 70 percent of the arrears were owed by people who reported less than $10,000 a year in income. They were expected to pay, on average, 83 percent of their income in child support — a percentage that declined precipitously in higher income brackets.

In many jurisdictions, support orders are based not on the parent’s actual income but on “imputed income” — what they would be expected to earn if they had a full-time, minimum wage or median wage job.

It’s hard for me to say exactly what I think about child support laws. On the one hand, I think fathers should support the lives of their children. On the other hand, I don’t like seeing laws in place that target and oppress the poor. I guess the best solution is the hardest, but most obvious one: fathers should actually be fathers and husbands.

It’s vital to note that, as of 2012, 72.2% of children born to non-Hispanic black mothers were born out of wedlock. That means that 72.2% of children in the black community currently have a right to some kind of child support. Maybe the real answer here is not necessarily to address the child support laws, but to encourage monogamy and marriage in black communities. That would address many more issues than just this one.