-By Glenn Sacks
Thousands of protesters have called and written Lifetime Television this week to protest Lifetime’s new father-bashing reality show Deadbeat Dads. Last year, similar protests drove the show—originally called Bad Dads–off of Fox.
According to Reuters, in Deadbeat Dads Jim Durham, director of the National Child Support Center, “functions as a sort of ‘Dog the Bounty Hunter’ for tracking deadbeats.” Durham targets dads by “making their lives miserable — foreclosing on their house, repossessing their car. He will squeeze them… It’s ambush reality TV.”
The program’s depiction of divorced dads is a horrendous distortion. Research clearly shows that most divorced dads pay their child support and strive to remain a part of their children’s lives, often under very difficult circumstances. The Federal Office of Child Support Enforcement’s own data shows that two-thirds of “deadbeat dads” earn poverty level wages—only 4% earn even $40,000 a year.
In the middle of the worst economic conditions in decades, Deadbeat Dads kicks fathers while they’re down. Media reports show that the majority of those losing their jobs in this recession are men, and it is notoriously difficult for fathers to get their child support orders modified downward. As many newspapers are now documenting, these hard luck dads sometimes end up in jail.
Moreover, a wide array of studies have shown that the child support arrearages which are claimed against alleged “deadbeat dads” are often erroneous.
For example, a recent Massachusetts audit found that the arrearages claimed were incorrect in 92% of that state’s cases. The California Department of Child Support Services itself admitted last year that the overwhelming majority of “deadbeat dads” are the product of problems and abuses within the child support system. Missouri Child Support Auditor Susan Montee recently called Missouri’s calculations of child support arrearages “extremely sloppy…a total inattention to making sure these numbers are right.”
While Deadbeat Dads specifically targets fathers, according to US Census data noncustodial mothers are 20% more likely to default on their child support obligations than noncustodial fathers. This is despite the fact that noncustodial mothers are less likely to be required to pay child support, and those with support obligations are asked to pay a lower percentage of their income in child support than noncustodial fathers.
The worst part about Deadbeat Dads is the way it publicly humiliates children by depicting their fathers as not loving or caring for them. How is a child to feel when he or she sees their dad being vilified on TV because he allegedly doesn’t love or provide for them? How is the child to feel when he or she is reminded of this by friends or teased about it on the schoolyard?
Reality shows do sometimes intrude on people’s privacy, but rarely do they cast aspersions on something as intimate and emotional as a parent’s love for his or her children. Also, most reality show participants are volunteers. These children did not volunteer to be humiliated on national television.
Another problem with Deadbeat Dads is that it glorifies the role of private child support collection agencies. These agencies not only manhandle noncustodial fathers but often exploit and deceive custodial mothers. The National Organization for Women and other women’s advocates have repeatedly condemned these agencies for mistreating women. Durham, the central figure in Deadbeat Dads, has often been singled out by women’s groups as a perpetrator of abusive tactics.
There certainly are fathers who do not come through for their children. Yet there are many other fathers who’ve heroically fought to remain a meaningful part of their children’s lives in the face of a court system which often looks the other way when mothers violate fathers’ visitation rights, move their children far away, or turn the children against their fathers.
Divorce and the often tenuous bonds between children and divorced fathers is a serious issue–Deadbeat Dads is a heavy-handed, biased, and hurtful intrusion into the most painful part of our children’s lives.
I am the Executive Director of Fathers & Families, a family court reform organization with the largest reach of any advocacy group of its kind. I am also a widely-published newspaper columnist on men’s and fathers’ issues, and am a frequent guest on radio & TV. I am available for interviews and can be reached by phone at (818) 470-8587 or by e-mail at GlennSacks@FathersandFamilies.org.
To learn more about the protest campaign, see our campaign home page at FathersandFamilies.org.
Glenn Sacks is the National Executive Director of Fathers and Families. His own website can be see at www.GlennSacks.com.
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