March 13, 2006

Who does the non-custodial parent owe child support to?

I was wondering why there's been so much noise about 'Choice for men', the idiotic idea that men ought to be allowed to refuse to pay child support because women are allowed to abort a pregnancy. Turns out the noise has been in response to a suit filed in the US District Court in Detroit to argue precisely that. Teach me to not follow the links to Yahoo News.

Here's the level of intelligent discourse coming from the guy who wants to weasel out of that burden of $500 a month:

"I don't necessarily believe that men should be able to force women to do anything either way, but I believe their input should at least be taken into consideration,"

Anyways, I do have a substantial point to make.

Despite the national attention it has garnered, even the plaintiff's camp seems aware that the case is a little half-baked. Though NCM executive director Mel Feit said by phone that 'there is no way to know' how the courts will rule in the case, many past child-support decisions have been decided on the basis that the need of a child to receive support from both parents outweighs any unfairness to a man who didn't want to be a father.

Non-custodial parents don't pay child support to their children. They pay it to the custodial parent. I think this point is best made by considering a point made by David Boonin, that an infant acquires a right to support from its parents (or, more generally, its guardians) by virtue of certain 'salient actions' on the part of the parent. The particular example he gives is of a woman who takes her newborn infant home; on Boonin's account, she is thereby understood by all concerned (including the state) as implicitly consenting to provide the infant with food, shelter, an education, &c.

Now, in the case of a non-custodial parent, it does not appear any such salient actions have been committed: all he has done (assuming the non-custodial parent is the father, since this is more common than the other way around) is consent to sex with the mother. And, of course, the pro-choicer is going to argue that she doesn't incur any obligations to the foetus simply by consenting to sex.

The problem with this analysis is, in the philosophical jargon, that child support payments are externalizable, while pregnancy is not: if he doesn't pay child support, she has to pick up the slack; but no-one else can carry the pregnancy to term if she doesn't want to. Hence, child support payments aren't owed to the child. They're owed to the person who would otherwise incur the expenses of raising the child, ie, the custodial parent. Consenting to sex is a salient action, for incurring the responsibility of dealing with the consequences of having sex, whatever those consequences happen to be. It's no violation of equal protection if he has fewer options than she does for dealing with these consequences.

And, of course, it's not hard at all for men to guarantee that an infant will never, ever be one of those consequences.


Unknown said...

I was in a raging argument about this last week on my Doctor Who forum. It reminds me so much of the abortion debate. Pro-lifers will rant and rave about the rights of the fetus, but you can never pin them down on what they think we should do about it. Sure, overturn Roe, but then what? We've got this South Dakota abortion ban that many pro-lifers will get behind, but that makes abortion a Class Five Felony, which is nowhere near the same ballpark as killing an actual, post-birth human being. Mention that and they clam up right quick.

It's even worse on this issue. The "men's rights" idiots rant and rave about how unfair it is that the mean women get to make all the decisions, but as soon as you point out that the only possible remedies are 1) to allow men to make abortion decisions for women, or b) to deny child support to an innocent child, they just splutter.

And yes, "half-baked" is the perfect way to describe this lawsuit. It's total crap.

Jenna said...

I don't think these men think about who this would effect. They are angry at the woman who is making them pay and they do it to punish her and in their anger they are forgetting that the baby who they would want to grow up to be a productive member of society in any other case is the one that is being punished. These are the same people that don't want there taxes going to welfare because someone else isn't paying there child support. It is a vicious circle and if these men don't want to have children then they need to do something about it themselves.

Noumena said...

I suspect it's not that they haven't thought about the effects of their actions on others so much as they don't care.

Unknown said...

I think it's a mix of both, Noumena. The "men's rights" movement is a mix of the ignorant and the truly vile. Only some, the truly vile, really understand their project and their purpose. I think the vast majority of the "movement" (and by that term, I mean nothing more organized than the set of all people who take "men's rights" seriously) are simply ignorant.