Friday, June 8, 2012

Not So Happy Father's Day?

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… that if the man has no say whatsoever in whether the baby is born, he shouldn’t be held responsible for child support. This is another idea that comes up against absolutes that many of us would find hard to surrender: Namely that a man is financially responsible for his child. However, is that always and ubiquitously fair? 

Again, in a practical world how could we enforce the idea that a man who didn’t really want a child wasn’t responsible for the child? How many deadbeat dads would step forward with their reluctance, their ambivalence, as a way to worm their way out of responsibility? It is very hard to see how this could be written into law, the didn’t-want-him argument, without wide-scale abuse and harm to the children involved. On the other hand, it might be reasonable to recognize that there is a certain amount of unfairness at play. There is the possibility that a woman who has a baby against a man’s will should in some moral, if not legal universe, claim financial responsibility for that child.

This is a common argument that I’ve seen in men’s right’s circles.  That is, if a woman has a right to an abortion, then a man should have the right to nullify child support.  But to me, there seems to be a false equivalence.  A woman’s right to abortion is based on notions of bodily autonomy.  Can the state force someone to give up the direct use of their body for the benefit of another person?  Right now, the answer is no.  You can’t force someone to donate blood, or kidneys, or even spit to another person, even if they are related, even if that other person is your child.

Child support is based on a different framework, the “best interest of the child”.  Once a child is already born, who has a duty to support it?  There can be several different answers: just the mother, just the father, no one at all, the state, various relatives, etc.  In the United States, we have decided that both parents have a duty to support the child, unless both parents agree to give the child to the state or someone else.  If one parent (no matter the sex) wants to raise the child, the state will impose the duty for the other parent to support the child as well.  It may not be necessarily fair to the other parent, but it is in the best interest of the child, the only totally innocent party.

From a practical standpoint, child support also makes sense.  If every person could get out of supporting any child that they help create, the state would get overwhelmed pretty quickly, even more so than it is now.  Everyone would have to pay even more taxes than they would now, and the so-called welfare state would get even larger.  Or, in the worst alternative, children would starve in the street a la Dickens.  When I hear the complaints about men being forced to pay child support, I often wonder which outcome the speaker would prefer.  Thoughts?

 Happy Father’s Day!

Emily:  I think it's a great topic of discussion.  I agree with you, but in this case I'm also harsher about it than you are - you were so respectful of what I think is a just wrong position :-)

My first response: Don't want a kid, gentlemen?  Wrap it up.  Yes, condoms fail, but 97% effective is pretty darn effective.  Men do have a choice when it comes to whether or not a baby is conceived.  It is not all on women.  As the right wing is so fond of saying - "the only way to be sure not to get pregnant [they always place the onus on the girl, but it's as true for the boy] is NOT to have sex."  My mom always said do not have sex until you are willing to deal with the consequences.  I think that's awesome advice.  

As far as abortion rights go - life is full of difficult challenges.  Women get the joy and burden of carrying kids, and men get the joy and burden of having to find a woman to trust to carry their kids.  I'm sure it's frustrating to have to trust somebody else to make choices that impact you, but all the more reason to be more careful about with whom you have sex, you know?


  1. Another person's take on it:

  2. "The woman trapped the man into fatherhood and she should be expected to compensate him for the wrong that she inflicted upon him."??? A) Having a child is not "a wrong inflicted upon anybody." B) Nobody made the dude have sex. C) This is all based on a premise that having kids is a burden but not with attendant benefits.