"No. 1 deadbeat parent pleads guilty to owing $1.2 million" reads the headline from the Associated Press. The article details a father fleeing first to Florida and then to Thailand, resulting in child-support arrears since 2002.
His name is Robert Sand and he sits in jail. Deported from the Philippines in November, he was sent to Los Angeles where he was arrested by federal marshals, and then extradited to New York where he has been held without bail since December. Next, this dad became front-page news. The AP article was careful to use the term "deadbeat parent," but my Facebook feed doesn't subscribe to such neutral speech. My page lit up with moms rallying in solidarity. The target? Deadbeat dads.
Upon reading the caption "No. 1 deadbeat...", the public reacted with the same judgment: "typical." And from there, the floodgates opened. On social media sites, single-parent moms are bemoaning their own child-support sagas. They are commiserating with others who are dealing with deadbeats and they are making calls to their exes (or lawyers) with fresh "you'd better, or else" leverage. You think I exaggerate? Divorce can be a dark place, and child-support is the hotspot.
Divorce attorneys are familiar with the child-support focus of their clients. "It's the elephant in the room", says one Palm Springs attorney who is a Certified Family Law Specialist. The custodial parent facing divorce wants to know "how much?" regarding child-support monies that can be gained from the ex. This question is matched by the non-custodial parent's inquiry of "how often?" regarding visitation with the child. The system and the mindset are working in tandem: child-support equals visitation, visitation equals child-support. No support? No visitation.
And this is done for the children?
As I looked into my child's future -- past the divorce -- my heart made a pact with her: "I will never, ever put you in a position where you'll see a picture of your dad on the front-page news with a caption that reads "Deadbeat". Your father's driver's and professional licenses will never be confiscated as a consequence of him not paying court-ordered child support. You, my sweet child, will never go to bed knowing your father sleeps in jail due to his lack of paying. Regardless of his financial support, I will encourage you to know his love -- without my judgment of it." This was my vow, even as I faced a financially uncertain future.
And with that conviction, I did not pursue court-ordered child support. To those who say about Deadbeats, "It is their choice not to pay. It is their undoing that brings on the consequences," I say "No." In inviting court-ordered support, you invite in the consequences -- both the intended (support payments) and the unintended (deadbeat). No amount of money gained is worth the gamble of a child experiencing their parent alienated or in jail as a result of non-compliance. A child doesn't understand court orders, procedures, and regulations. But if a child's parent is in jail for arrears, they do know this: "If I didn't exist, my parent wouldn't be in jail." Is your heart strong enough to fully take that in without your mind jumping to "yeah, but..."?
Are there toxic parents who neither love nor support their child? Sure. But forced money gained can't disguise that ugliness. A child who experiences a truly negative parent doesn't need money, they need healing. It's hard to heal a child's pain when the focus is on the toxic parent.
The twisted part? Some custodial parents revel in their ex's deadbeat demise. As if a declared deadbeat somehow justifies the suffering. A child doesn't want justification, a child wants smiles.
Children of divorce are holding up a sign: It's time for a new divorce. They are wanting a divorce process and solutions that address their needs -- that address their heart. They know that they can be loved, nurtured, and thrive through divorce.
When we assert that "It's best for the child," it's time we do it with a heart that perceives the consequences.
It's time we think anew.