NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Opinion: Give "Dead-Broke Dads" A Break

February 22, 2002

The notion that "divorced or unmarried fathers make out like bandits, leaving women and children in the dust," is based on faulty research, says Cathy Young of Reason magazine.

In her 1985 book, "The Divorce Revolution," Lenore Weitzman claimed women's standard of living drops 73 percent after divorce, while men's rises 42 percent, based on a 1977 study. But that oft-quoted statistic was subsequently debunked.

  • In 1996 another scholar found a huge error in Weitzman's computations, although the revised data still yielded a 10 percent increase in men's living standards and a 27 percent decline in women's.
  • But since 1977, women's earnings have risen and child support collections have improved.
  • Thus, in his 1999 book "Divorced Dads: Shattering the Myths," Arizona State University researcher Sanford Braver found that among typical divorced couples with two children, both parents' living standards decline slightly.

In reality, most noncustodial fathers behind in their child support payments are unemployed or unskilled laborers. But as the government has ratcheted up child support enforcement, some impoverished fathers have been jailed.

  • One study found that among fathers with no employment problems, 5 percent paid nothing and 81 percent paid in full; among seasonal or sometime unemployed workers, 45 percent paid in full and over a third paid nothing.
  • Urban Institute scholar Elaine Sorensen has reported that only 4 percent of fathers are able to get a judge to reduce their child support payments when their earnings drop by more than 15 percent, and when they do, it takes up to six months -- while arrearages mount.

President Bush wants payments by noncustodial fathers whose children are on welfare to go directly to the family rather than a government bureaucracy, believing the arrangement will help involve fathers in their children's lives.

Source: Cathy Young (Reason magazine), "New look at 'deadbeat dads,'" Boston Globe, February 11, 2002.


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