COMMENT: Father Knows Best
A single parent of two boys recently went public in a letter to the editor (Terrace Standard) with a detailed outline of the harsh financial reality facing her due to difficulties in collecting maintenance payments the boys’ father has been ordered to pay. Her reality is not unheard of, and the defaulting parent is not a deadbeat dad, he is a miscreant dad.
Babies exact a contractual obligation on parents, not with each other but with the child. That contract begins with the birth of the child and endures until the child reaches adulthood. We have two possibilities with which to deal with problems resulting from children who are financially abandoned by one parent: we either provide for such children as a society, or we establish laws and conditions that deter parents from defaulting on their obligations.
Many societies, mostly in Europe, provide free daycare and afterschool care which is available to all children. Yes, such services do cost money which the state has to collect in the form of taxes. Anyone opposed to the idea must bear in mind that the children born today are the ones who, by the time they reach adulthood, will be called on to pay for the government debts we have accumulated. The least we can do is to provide them with favourable odds in their formative years. Some politicians have been advocating free daycare, afterschool care, and comprehensive school supply programs, but such ideas have not gained a foothold in our society. So let us look at the other option.
We impose consequences on individuals who fail to meet mortgage payments, car payments, or credit card payments. Suggesting that a person should be allowed to simply walk away from a financial obligation, be referred to as a “deadbeat eater” when walking out of a restaurant without paying, a “deadbeat driver” when driving away from a gas station without paying, or a “deadbeat customer” for shoplifting would be ridiculous. Why then do we care so little about “deadbeat dads” instead of recognizing these miscreants for what they are–and dealing with them accordingly?
If we prefer to leave parents with the responsibility to provide for the next generation, we had better govern that responsibility appropriately. The contract arising from childbirth is between parent and child, not between mother and father. In other words, financial obligations imposed on a parent who walks away from the family are not due to the other parent, they are due to the child. In consideration of the long-term consequences, child support payments must therefore be recognized as a parent’s top ranked financial obligation. Child support obligations must take priority over mortgages, loans, and all other financial obligations. The state must be assigned the duty to monitor and enforce compliance.
The state should maintain a register of all child support orders issued. Financial institutions and credit card issuing corporations should be required to submit all applications for mortgages, loans or credit cards from individuals to such registry for clearance. Credit applications by an individual whose child support payments are habitually in arrears should be denied. In cases where a delinquent parent has no assets and no income, or has absconded abroad, the state should be obliged to make the full child support payments ordered in lieu of the defaulting parent. The state should maintain a record of payments made in such cases and have the capability to recover such sums, with interest, if the possibility for doing so should arise at some future date.
My preferred option is for society to provide free day care and afterschool care, and to supply needed school supplies. But if we want the cost of raising children to remain a private affair, then at least let us act responsibly in the ways we deal with it.
Andre Carrel is a retired City Administrator, journalist, author, and full-time grandpal.