Child Support: A Tax to Encourage Single Motherhood

by W.F. Price on November 26, 2012

It will probably be a difficult process, but eventually conservatives and those who want to restore marriage are going to have to come to terms with the fact that one of their favorite causes – forcing fathers to pay child support no matter what the circumstances – is directly responsible for the rise in single motherhood. I’m not sure whether we can say for sure that it is responsible for the decline of marriage, because that seems to be happening in Asian countries where child support is neither routine nor enforced, but it is an enormous factor in rising illegitimacy.

Combined with welfare and no-fault divorce, automatic child support has given millions of women all the justification they need to take the plunge and become single mothers. Since the 1960s, it has risen in both relative and absolute terms, coming to replace welfare for lower-income mothers in many instances and serving as an alimony enhancement for the middle and upper classes.

And make no mistake: child support is a tax. When the government forces you to pay no matter what the circumstances, and penalizes you for not doing so, what else could it be? Although some may argue that because the money is not directly provided to the state it is not a tax, the logic behind child support gives the lie to this particular argument. It is used to prevent mothers from going on the dole, and it is also used to reimburse the state for expenditures on mothers and their illegitimate children, therefore child support is directly tied to state expenses.

In short, child support is a tax designed to incentivize single motherhood, and it has done a fine job of it. Without government-enforced payments to mothers (well over 90% of all child support goes to mothers), illegitimacy would be a fraction of what it is today. Women frequently justify child support as something a man should pay merely for not “keeping it in his pants” (this despite the fact that many men who pay child support actually married the women who receive the payment, and were left for no fault of their own), but why is it that while a man must pay for failing to keep his pants on, a woman gets paid for the same? Surely there can be no moral lesson in such a setup, as one party is rewarded while another is punished for the same act. It is akin to letting one keep the spoils while jailing another for robbing a bank.

However, it is going to take a profound change in attitude before people begin to see it for what it is. Fortunately, there are signs that this change is occurring. While traditional Western norms see females as blameless angels, tradition is rapidly disappearing before our eyes, and it is likely that a far different attitude will emerge in the near future.

In the meanwhile, we’ll have to go against the prevailing sense of right and wrong and advocate for the abolition of involuntary child support. If a man’s children are removed from him, or he never had a chance to act as a father, he should not under any circumstances be forced to pay for children that are wholly owned possessions of some woman who has no obligations to him. If the law says that a man has no rights to his children and no authority over them, then he should have no responsibility for them, either. A woman who chooses to be a single mother should be single in every sense of the word. She cannot call herself a “single mother” when she is receiving involuntary payments from some man, but rather the “missus” to a man under peonage. There is nothing single about a woman who is still being paid by a man.

If a man voluntarily leaves his wife and children it is another, touchier matter, as he has broken his promises, but even here we should tread very carefully in getting the state involved, because as we have seen one thing leads to another. It may be immoral for a man to do this, but it is far rarer than for a woman to seize her husband’s children and run to another man, which is equally immoral yet goes unpunished (it is rewarded, actually) today. Additionally, a woman in such a situation may deserve sympathy, and find it easier to marry than the typical single mother. The few men who do abandon their families, therefore, probably do not justify legislation that can be applied to all manner of dissolutions.

For many readers here, these are not particularly radical ideas, but we should keep in mind that for most Americans child support is taken for granted as a “good thing.” Even men rarely question it until they find themselves victims, so arguing for its abolition may come off as quite radical. However, as you can see, it’s pretty easy to make solid arguments against it, because given the results, the practice cannot be justified. I’d advise focusing on those results, and asking supporters whether state-enforced child support is really worth the illegitimacy, the delinquent, fatherless youths and broken families. Point out that despite years of enforcement, fathers are less a part of their children’s lives than ever, and tax expenditures on mothers as high as ever on a per child basis.

It’s time to ask politicians why they are promoting illegitimacy, adultery and broken families. How does that benefit their constituents?

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