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Do child support programs reflect an outdated view of paternity?

The child support system in our country dates back to the 1970s. However, experts contend, it does not reflect today's families or economy. Most of the couples were divorced and had child custody agreements with designated parental responsibilities. Often, just as when they were married, divorced fathers were the wage-earners and the mothers were the caretakers.

Now, say sociologists and other academics, increasingly child support is ordered for men who were never married to the children's mother. Further, almost 30 percent of them live below the poverty level. The current system, they note, places too much emphasis on getting money from men who don't have it and not enough on what they can contribute to their children's lives as a parent. As one sociologist notes, "Child support is a remnant of the days when we used to think that dads didn't matter."

That system, some argue, hurts the children it is seeking to help. Rather than contributing where they can, such as by buying diapers or coats, they have to worry about putting their money toward their child support payments. They say that the "deadbeat dad" figure is not the norm, and most fathers want to take care of their children. Rather than labeling someone a bad father because he cannot make his child support payments, they recommend giving greater value to things like consistency, emotional availability and meeting a child's "informal needs."

The federal government seems to be giving some credence to these arguments. The Office of Child Support Enforcement is proposing changes to the child-support program. These include letting states spend child support program money on training and employment programs for fathers.

Of course, the child support system is an important safety net for many. There have been significant advancements in child support collection procedures over the past decades that have helped collect tens of billions of dollars. However, nationwide, the amount of child support owed is still over $100 billion. Most of that, research indicates, will never be collected because the people who owe it simply can't afford to pay.

While financially supporting one's children is an important part of paternity, there's much more to it than that. Texas fathers who are prevented from seeing their children because of issues with child support payments may want to seek legal guidance to find out what options are available to them to remain part of their children's lives.

Source: The Boston Globe, "How ‘deadbeats’ can still be good dads" Ruth Graham, Dec. 05, 2014

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