Tom Lemons, Legal Correspondent
December 19, 2020
FLORIDA – The pejorative term “deadbeat dad” became popular in the mid-1970s, around the same time federal lawmakers passed Title IV-D, which provides states with the ability to enforce child support orders against delinquent parents. During that time, mothers were frequently granted primary custody of children in paternity cases, resulting in the vast majority of child support orders being issued against men. When fathers refused or were unable to pay the required support, they were often called deadbeat dads.
According to the most recent Census Bureau study (2015), there were over 13.6 million custodial parents living in the U.S. About half of those had some type of child support agreement in place, and nearly 90% were established through Title IV-D. Less than half of custodial parents (43.5 percent) received child support payments in full, with an average of only $3,447 per parent annually.
A lot has changed since the mid-20th Century. Men are no longer the primary breadwinners, the wage gap has contracted, and more women are graduating from colleges and universities than men, by nearly 10%. Thanks to state and federal laws that prohibit sexual harassment and discrimination in the workplace, women are more likely to file complaints without fear of retaliation. Just about every inequity in this country’s short 244-year existence has been addressed or resolved, with regard to gender, race, religion and even lifestyle – a true testament to the evolution of the “Great Experiment.”
The following is a list of 39 major milestones reached in the advancement for women’s equality since the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (U.S. Library of Congress):
1964 – Title VII of the Civil Rights Act passes, prohibiting sex discrimination in employment. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission is created.
1965 – The Supreme Court establishes the right of married couples to use contraception.
1968 – President Lyndon B. Johnson signs an executive order prohibiting sex discrimination by government contractors and requiring affirmative action plans for hiring women.
1969 – California adopts the nation’s first “no fault” divorce law, allowing divorce by mutual consent.
- Wellesley College graduate Hillary Clinton becomes the first student to address the graduating class at commencement.
1972 – Title IX of the Education Amendments prohibits sex discrimination in all aspects of education programs that receive federal support.
- The Supreme Court upholds the right to use birth control by unmarried couples.
- Juanita Kreps becomes the first woman director of the New York Stock Exchange.
1973 – Landmark Supreme Court ruling Roe v. Wade makes abortion legal. The Supreme Court in a separate ruling bans sex-segregated “help wanted” advertising.
1974 – Housing discrimination on the basis of sex and credit discrimination against women are outlawed by Congress.
- The Supreme Court rules it is illegal to force pregnant women to take maternity leave on the assumption they are incapable of working in their physical condition.
1975 – The Supreme Court denies states the right to exclude women from juries.
1978 – The Pregnancy Discrimination Act bans employment discrimination against pregnant women.
1980 – Paula Hawkins of Florida, a Republican, becomes the first woman to be elected to the U.S. Senate without following her husband or father in the job.
1981 – Sandra Day O’Connor becomes first woman to serve on the Supreme Court.
- The Supreme Court rules that excluding women from the draft is constitutional. In a separate decision, the high court overturns state laws designating a husband “head and master” with unilateral control of property owned jointly with his wife.
- In a break with tradition, Lady Diana Spencer deletes the vow to “obey” her husband as she marries Prince Charles.
1982 – The ERA falls short of ratification.
1983 – Dr. Sally K. Ride becomes the first American woman to be sent into space.
1984 – Geraldine Ferraro becomes the first woman to be nominated to be vice president on a major party ticket.
- U.S. Supreme Court bans sex discrimination in membership for onetime all-male groups like the Jaycees, Kiwanis and Rotary clubs.
- The state of Mississippi belatedly ratifies the 19th Amendment, granting women the vote.
1986 – The U.S. Supreme Court held that a work environment can be declared hostile or abusive because of discrimination based on sex, an important tool in sexual harassment cases.
1989 – The Supreme Court affirms the right of states to deny public funding for abortions and to prohibit public hospitals from performing abortions.
1994 – The Violence Against Women Act funds services for victims of rape and domestic violence and allows women to seek civil rights remedies for gender-related crimes. Six years later, the Supreme Court invalidates those portions of the law permitting victims of rape, domestic violence, etc. to sue their attackers in federal court.
1997 – Madeleine Albright become the first female secretary of state.
2005 – Congress passes the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act, the first law to ban a specific abortion procedure. The Supreme Court upholds the ban the following year.
2007 – Nancy Pelosi becomes the first female speaker of the House.
2008 – Alaska Governor Sarah Palin becomes the first woman to run for vice president on the Republican ticket. Hillary Clinton loses the Democratic nomination to Barack Obama.
2009 – The Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Restoration Act allows victims, usually women, of pay discrimination to file a complaint with the government against their employer within 180 days of their last paycheck.
2013 – The ban against women in military combat positions is removed, overturning a 1994 Pentagon decision restricting women from combat roles.
2016 – Hillary Rodham Clinton secures the Democratic presidential nomination, becoming the first U.S. woman to lead the ticket of a major party. She loses to Republican Donald Trump in the fall.
2017 – Congress has a record number of women; 104 female House members and 21 female Senators, including the chamber’s first Latina, Nevada Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto.
Although most of the above accomplishments are hailed as victories for women’s rights, then-Senator Joe Biden, now President-Elect, introduced the Violence Against Women Act of 1994, which Men’s Rights advocates say is openly prejudice and violates a man’s right to equal protection under the law.
The landmark Supreme Court ruling Roe v. Wade, which grants women the right to terminate a pregnancy, not only sparks heated debate with pro-life advocates, but some men say it violates their right to protect the life of their unborn children.
Back to the issue of time-sharing and child support; with overwhelming progress being made in favor of women’s rights, men only represent about 20% of custodial parents, a marginal increase of barely 4% since 1994. Affected fathers contribute the disparity to a multitude of circumstances; corrupt family courts and Judges, false claims of abuse and sexual assault, and hostility towards men in general, but whatever the case, fathers just can’t seem to break the barrier of having equal time-sharing or the stigma of being the majority of those unable or unwilling to pay child support. It only makes sense that if 80% of child support obligors are men, they would also represent a higher rate of non-payers.
In recent years, Florida Republicans have attempted to reform alimony guidelines, which allows Judges to grant permanent alimony in a divorce. Florida is only one of seven states that still allows permanent alimony, which might partially explain why Florida has one of the lowest divorce rates. With each attempt at reform, lawmakers included a stipulation to also consider equal time-sharing between mothers and fathers. That provision is what some critics say led to the death of each bill. But even without equal time-sharing, Democrats, along with opposing testimony from the Florida Bar and the National Organization for Women shot down any hope of reforming the antiquated decree.
Last week, U.S. Senator Tom Cotton (R-Arkansas) introduced a bill that would increase child support payments to custodial parents and assist states with enforcement efforts. The bill entitled the Child Support Works Act would reimburse states up to 66% for expenditures on mandatory work programs for non-custodial parents who are unemployed, underemployed, or behind on their child support payments. Sen. Cotton stated in a December 10th media release, “Fathers have an obligation to care for their children. Child-support orders can help parents fulfill this obligation by requiring them to work. This bill would provide additional resources to state child-support agencies so they can help parents get back on their feet and provide for their family.” It is unknown if Sen. Cotton believes men “should” always bear the responsibility of child support obligations, regardless of equality or ability to pay, or if he was speaking to parents in general.
Father’s advocates are concerned that an increase in federal funding could adversely affect child support guidelines, so I asked Attorneys with the Ayo & Iken Law Firm if they believe an obligor’s payments could increase under the proposed changes, and if Florida’s current guidelines are fair to both parties. Attorney Jason Coupal says, “My reading of the bill suggests that it would reimburse state child support enforcement agencies for operating programs that require obligors who cannot pay child support to work.” He goes on to say, “I believe this is a rather optimistic outlook, and I highly doubt it will increase child support revenue overall.” With regard to fairness, Coupal believes the current guidelines do not provide enough support in some cases. “Too often, I have found that child support awards based upon 61.30 (Florida Statute) do not provide enough support, particularly when children have special needs.” Attorney Howard Ellzey says, “Children are not chattel to be owned and they are not like animals at a zoo that we “visit,” referring to a potential increase in support obligation. Ellzey continues, “The guidelines are fair, inasmuch as they mitigate against the subjectivity of a judge to order child support. It needs to be predictable, reliable, based on income, and the amount of time each parent spends with the child, among other factors.” Ellzey draws a comparison to the earlier mentioned alimony reform efforts, stating “Consider alimony has no such guidelines and often, either one party overpays or does not get what they should receive, unfairly – to have guidelines is fair.”
I asked our readers what they thought of child support obligations and if men and women are treated equally. Here’s what a few of them had to say:
My husband owes me so much in back child support. Why do men think they don’t need to pay for their children? I mean, they did half the work. If the children live with the father, the mother should pay. I think at least, it should be enforced either way.
The absent parent should have to pay. If its 50/50 time share, then each parent should provide for their own household.
Michelle Stegall Jordan
…It is already too high. It should be a flat fee based on cost of living, locally only. Both parents the same, regardless of gender.
I do not believe a man should pay more for child support than a woman. I raised my son by myself without support.
Becky Chambers Watson
All should be 50/50, regardless of the other parent’s situation. My husband’s ex makes more money than he does, yet he’s responsible for 75% of his child’s expenses.