The U.S. Office of Child Support Enforcement is to be commended for setting out to update 35-year-old rules with the expressed interest in better serving our children. That said, as they stand, the proposals fall short of making real positive impact for families locally in Alabama as well as families nationwide. I urge the office to revise the proposal in a way that focuses on encouraging parental involvement.Keep in mind that this issue is particularly pressing in Alabama, where we have the fourth-highest divorce rate in the country.
The office states that the proposals aim to improve child well-being, but the changes focus solely on improving child support collections – an effort that both hard data and commonsense agree is not the answer to positively affecting the well-being of children. Instead, the primary purpose of the changes should be to promote parent involvement in instances when parents are divorced, separated or never married. When both parents play an active role in a children’s life, the child’s likelihood of success drastically improves. Consider the facts:
· Fathers who have little or no contact with their children following a divorce pay about one-third of their child support, while fathers who regularly spend time with their children pay at least 85 percent of their child support, according to “Child-Custody Adjudication: Judicial Functions in the Face of Indeterminacy” by Harvard Law School Professor Robert H. Mnookin.
· About 30 percent of parents with sole custody report a one-year absence of child support payments, yet when shared parenting exists, a year without payments is non-existent, according to “Supporting children after divorce: The influence of custody on support levels and payments” by Center for Policy Research’s Jessica Pearson and Nancy Thoennes.
· American Psychological Association published a University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center paper last year by Richard Warshak, titled “Social Science and Parenting Plans for Young Children: A Consensus Report,” that concluded “a broad consensus of accomplished researchers and practitioners agree that, in normal circumstances, the evidence supports shared residential arrangements for children under 4 years of age whose parents live apart from each other.” The paper was endorsed by an international group of 110 top experts in early child development.
· At a time when a growing number of U.S. children live in single-parent homes, the Center for Disease Control, the Department of Justice and the Bureau of the Census report that these same children account for a majority of teen suicides, high school dropouts, children with substance abuse problems, youths in prison, teen pregnancies, and homeless and runaway children.
The Alabama Department of Human Resources website reports that:
"Children from father-absent homes are five times more likely to live in poverty, 3 times more likely to fail in school, two to three times more likely to develop emotional and behavioral problems, and three times more likely to commit suicide.
The chief predictor of crime in a neighborhood is the percentage of homes without fathers. Up to 70 percent of adolescents charged with murder are from fatherless homes. Up to 70 percent of long-term prison inmates grew up in fatherless homes."
Rather than simply focus its efforts on child support enforcement, our federal government should take steps to protect shared parenting, where both parents are fully engaged in their children’s lives, which serves not only the child’s best interest in terms of what they most want and need, but it also is the most effective way to bolster child support collections.
What’s particularly alarming is that despite the overwhelming amount of research that shows shared parenting post-divorce is best, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, just 17 percent of children whose parents are not together have a shared parenting arrangement. What’s more, in many instances, sole custody is ordered over shared parenting even though both parents are fit and desire to play significant roles in their children’s lives.
The absence of shared parenting shows just how out of touch our family courts are with the best interests of children as well as the needs of modern families. And now, our nation’s child support enforcement authority is considering a proposal that overlooks the importance of allowing children the opportunity to experience a childhood filled with the constant presence of both parents.
Please join me in urging the Office of Child Support Enforcement to go beyond addressing child support as a symptom of the problem by taking on policy changes that protect a child’s right to the love and care of both parents.