Dr. Val Farmer
Rural Mental Health & Family Relationships

Custodial Father Responds About Custody And Divorce

June 10, 1996

Some years back I entered a dialogue with a man about the problems associated with being a single custodial father. My recent column on the perceived bias of the custody courts against fathers prompted this response from "North Dakota Dad." The thoughts are his, the captions are mine.

A program of economic redistribution. "Although it is still not commonly acceptable to say so, the reality of divorce in America is based upon a political agenda generated by gender oriented groups.

"It is a thinly disguised program of economic redistribution which crassly uses the plight of children to further a political goal. Now the fruits of this failed agenda are coming home in the ruined lives of children because single mothers are failing to raise these children adequately . . .

Spending by the custodial parent. "I don't feel I should have to give an accounting of how I have spent my money for my children. First, the non-custodial mother owes tens of thousands of dollars in child support arrearage and has not paid anything for years. My children are properly fed, clothed, housed, cared for and educated and absent evidence of neglect, neither the courts nor my ex-wife should have the right to open my financial records to see how I have spent every dime I have made.

"This accountability is just another 'control' issue, which is one of the divorce elements in most divorces, and my ex-spouse, simply by virtue of being divorced from me, should not have unlimited access to my finances for eighteen years or more . . . I agree if there is evidence of chemical abuse, neglect or financial irresponsibility by the custodial parent, the courts should be empowered to examine this issue.

Joint custody. "Although it sounds good on paper, in most cases it is simply unworkable. A few divorced parents, perhaps about 10 percent, can make it work with considerable sacrifice by both parents. In the other 90 percent, there are too many examples of obstructionism, control issues and outright violations to make this work.

"Joint custody is one of those issues which attempts to remedy the symptoms of divorce without addressing the actual problem - divorce is just too darned attractive an alternative under current law. John Guidabaldi points out there are too many financial enticements for divorce which interfere with the normal problem-solving in marital relationships which should be encouraged.

"The policy of the law, although intended to protect children of divorced parents, actually encourages divorce through economic incentives to divorce. These incentives cross the economic spectrum, from increased welfare benefits to single mothers through awarding the house and child support in middle class families to the custodial parent . . .

"Divorce - and marriage - should be harder to get. The social stigma of divorce and out-of-wedlock childbirth needs to be reattached.

"Most of all, divorce needs to change from the view that somebody ‘gets rich.’ Marriage and divorce should not be seen like a personal injury automobile accident, where money and assets are transferred from one party to another due to an injury by negligence or willful misconduct. Money and assets to support children of divorce need to follow the children, not the custodial parent . . . People have to get the message that if there isn't enough money for a family before divorce, there certainly isn't going to be more money afterward.

Deadbeat Moms and enforcement of court orders. "Since I am also a custodial parent, I can add that the child enforcement agencies, which are funded by our tax dollars, don't bother enforcing child support against delinquent, non-custodial mothers. Nationally, non-custodial mothers are required to pay significantly less for child support than fathers, and significantly less is ever paid.

"I am owed tens of thousands of dollars by the non-custodial mother to support my two children, know here she is living, can describe her assets, and can identify her sources of income, but child support enforcement agencies still refuse to even attempt to collect child support arrearage . . .

"Various excuses I have been given for not attempting to collect child support have included being unable to locate the non-custodial mother - she refused to answer her mail; . . . requiring me to prove "maternity" and stating other states refused to collect even though she lived in the state for six months last year.

"Perhaps most indicative of the inherent unfairness of this system is that every time I call the child support enforcement agency, I have to explain to the receptionist or the case worker that I am not some deadbeat dad, but the person to whom child support is owed. This institutional attitude infects every aspect of child support enforcement.

The disposable parent. "But being a non-custodial father means that you are disposable parent, the one parent who is literally thrown away from the family and deemed unnecessary - except as a source of income. I grieve for the 'North Dakota reader' because as much as he may want to be an involved parent, his involvement in his children's lives has effectively ended, his rights measured by a legal system designed to separate him from his children.

"I feel society is becoming more comfortable with the idea of custodial fathers, but the law has a long way to catch up with the concept of equality and fairness for men."