The Danger of Deadbeat Dads: Remembering the Real Reason for Marriage

Before I rant about deadbeat dads, I will acknowledge that there are plenty of problems among both genders when it comes to the trauma of divorce. For every deadbeat dad, there may well be 0.2 or more malicious moms out to abuse the system. Update: I should also acknowledge that I know some good men who have suffered from courts that seem highly biased in favor of women, even very bad women (the biases depend on jurisdiction and individuals: sometimes pro-woman, sometimes pro-man, and sometimes rather fair). In any case, divorce can be one of the ugliest things in human life. May our legal systems one day not make it any worse than it already is. So here’s the rant:

I am pained and bewildered by the callousness of the legal system in some states and counties where deadbeat dads can routinely get away with neglecting their families. In one case I am somewhat familiar with (informed mostly by the wife and kids, so yes, there may be much more to the story than what I know), it appears that a doctor worked with his CPA relative to stash away money secretly for years to be ready in case his marriage ended in divorce. When it did, the wife with two special needs children had a devil of a time getting enough because a lot of the real wealth of her wealthy husband was hidden. Apparently some professionals share tips with each other on how to beat the system and be prepared. That alone wouldn’t be such a problem if it weren’t for judges who are quick to buy the man’s side in case after case, leaving many women and their kids without the support they need.

After the divorce, this dad eventually just quit making payments, claiming he had lost his income and was now starting up a new practice in a new state with essentially no income. Pleading poverty, he has pretty much gotten away with leaving his special needs kids in the lurch. His income may actually be zero after he pays out salaries to his employees, one of whom is his new wife. His financial duress must be extreme, given that he’s living in a very large new home. How he manages that on no income is a testament to frugal living, I suppose.

Again, this is the perspective of the impoverished wife, who has had to rely on charity for food, help with rent, and insurance. Her story is reinforced by what the children have witnessed.

The judge handling this case hears man after man telling him that they’ve lost their jobs, don’t have an income, and can’t make payments. In today’s economy, many of these men may be telling the truth. It takes a little digging and discernment for the system to sift truth from fiction in these cases. If a judge just doesn’t care or is known to have a serious bias in favor of men, it’s easy to accept the stories and let them get away with paying much less than their wife and kids need. That may be the case here.

The woman was a stay-at-home mom who had a full-time job dealing with her children’s severe problems. Now she has started looking for work, but it’s so depressing. She gave up her career when she married to follow her husband to new locations for his work and to raise their children. She was vulnerable, and the legal system has failed to adequately protect her from the risk of being abandoned.

The risks that women face when they marry and might have children are partly why we have the legal formalities and regulations of marriage. It is about protecting children and providing incentives for a father to not abandon his offspring and the woman who dared to bear his children. The legal need for marriage, along with the social reasons for its existence and its fundamental definition across millennia, continents, and cultures, is intimately entwined with biology. Marriage is about fostering procreation and protecting women and children. Deadbeat dads represent one of the great social evils that our society cannot condone. Men who abandon their wives and children are among the most severe threats to marriage and the family. They must be shunned and punished. Those who cannot pay all that they should must strive in good faith to do all that they can. Deadbeat dads, repent, come back, and pay up. The financial stress you face now will be a minor price compared to what you will face when you stand before the bar of God, our Heavenly Father, to give an accounting of your stewardship as an earthly father. You don’t want that kind of pain. Repent now, and regain your life.

This issue reminds me of a classic article by a defender of marriage, Maggie Gallagher. “What Marriage Is For” was published in the Aug. 2003 Weekly Standard. It’s worth reading. Here is an excerpt:

AGAIN, what is marriage for? Marriage is a virtually universal human institution. In all the wildly rich and various cultures flung throughout the ecosphere, in society after society, whether tribal or complex, and however bizarre, human beings have created systems of publicly approved sexual union between men and women that entail well-defined responsibilities of mothers and fathers. Not all these marriage systems look like our own, which is rooted in a fusion of Greek, Roman, Jewish, and Christian culture. Yet everywhere, in isolated mountain valleys, parched deserts, jungle thickets, and broad plains, people have come up with some version of this thing called marriage. Why?

Because sex between men and women makes babies, that’s why. Even today, in our technologically advanced contraceptive culture, half of all pregnancies are unintended: Sex between men and women still makes babies. Most men and women are powerfully drawn to perform a sexual act that can and does generate life. Marriage is our attempt to reconcile and harmonize the erotic, social, sexual, and financial needs of men and women with the needs of their partner and their children.

And women with babies are vulnerable. They are often inconvenient, sometimes less attractive than before they had children, and certainly more expensive. For some men, it’s tempting to walk away from all that hassle and responsibility. That’s one reason why there should not be sex before marriage, and why marriage should be a serious covenant that entails responsibilities that are hard to escape. How tragic that it’s been downgraded and put at such jeopardy in our modern culture. Erosion of the family unit does not take a culture down a sustainable, healthy path.

Author: Jeff Lindsay

32 thoughts on “The Danger of Deadbeat Dads: Remembering the Real Reason for Marriage

  1. Yipes. That's a really horrid situation. I don't understand how a father can have so little concern for his children. I can see how in some cases there are people that feel their ex-wife is trying to take advantage of them but how do people lose compassion towards their own kids? It's just really sad.

    To be fair there are a lot of guys out there that are being taken advantage of by ex-wives and there are also plenty of men that choose to be responsible when put in such a situation instead of being selfish like this.

  2. I would bet that the former husband has some real serious money stashed away. I would also suggest that there is a real potential of drug/alcohol abuse going on with him.

  3. "For every deadbeat dad, there may well be 0.2 or so malicious moms out to abuse the system."

    As it stands, women initiate 3/4ths of divorces. And the courts favor women as it is. They are even very remiss in enforcing a fathers right to see his children, no matter how faithful he pays child support.

    "I am pained and bewildered by the callousness of the legal system in some states and counties where deadbeat dads can routinely get away with neglecting their families."

    One county took that approach, and made a major crack down on deadbeat dads, and collected 2 cents for every dollar spent. This problem is more myth than reality. I am not saying there are not problems, but they are not everyone says they are.

    If a judge just doesn't care or is known to have a serious bias in favor of men."

    Seriously? Have you ever talked with a guy who had to fight for his kids?

    "The risks that women face when they marry …"

    And any man who marries can be divorced at the drop of a hat by divorce courts that, as I said before, favor women, and be responsible for his kids and his ex-wife until the kids move out, and sometimes even longer. The wife usually has all the advantages of marriage with none of the drawbacks.

    The problem is no-fault divorce and the family courts.

  4. The real reason for marriage had nothing to do with God or protecting women and children. Marriage was created to enforce patriarchal property rights in past societies. Women and children were little more than chattel in those dark days. Fortunately we are (hopefully) more enlightened in the modern age and can see marriage for what it is now, the only thing it should be: an affirmation of love between two adults.

  5. Zen, yes, there are many injustices against good fathers also. But the nature of the injustices in divorce are not consistent and uniform. Some systems and some judges make women especially vulnerable, and the case I refer to is one example.

    In the sampling of divorce-related travesties I've encountered, I've seen more women and children suffering than men. But who has meaningful stats?

  6. When I read this the first thing that I thought of was Corban. It is always sad when trust has been violated, especially when someone takes advantage of the system for their own personal gain. Is it really worth it?

  7. A nice dinner and a dance can affirm love between two adults, or three, or four, or a man and his cat. If affirming love is all marriage is, why is it needed? It's about children, seeing that they have protection and parents.

  8. You have got to be kidding if you really think that courts favor the men. THEY ARE BIASED AGAINST MEN. For that reason I will stash away and hide every bit of wealth from my ex-wife. I would never leave my child in the lurch but also I will not support the extravagant lifestyle of a woman that does not wish to be part of a marriage.

  9. HI All,

    Being someone who daily works in the very system you're expressing frustration with, I probably have a very different take on things. First off, the court system was never designed to address this issue. The courts are by their very nature adversarial proceedings. They were set up to redress civil wrongs, contract and tort actions; and, punish criminal behaviour. The courts were never intended to be social work agencies yet are forced to do this because of the way people are choosing to live their lives.

    Second, deadbeat dad's are such a huge problem, there isn't enough man power to prosecute all these guys. Neither the courts, nor the prosecutors offices have sufficient resources to pursue every deadbeat dad case. Should they be, yes, but because of resources most have to prioritize and go after the worst offenders. As a consequence a lot of stuff gets mixed.

    Third, the courts are improving, but there is still a bias against men raising children on their own. Historically we have been a society where men were breadwinners, and women were childrearers. Now we are not, but the old social norms are still very present when you're talking about child support and custody issues. Things are much better than they were 20 years ago, but the courts still have a long way to go.

    Fourth, whoever said the no fault divorce was to blame, Kudos to you. What no fault divorce has done is make marriage and families disposable commodities. If you don't like the wife you have, simply move on to the next…in a lot of cases before you divorce the one you have. Women and Men are equally to blame for this one. The mindset we as Americans have, as a result of no fault divorce is that relationships can be dissolved without even having a reason. Its bad for marriage, its bad for families, and its especially bad for kids. You have a whole generation of kids out there even conceptualize the meaning of a long term relationship. They have no experience or role model to draw from.

    Finally though, the biggest problem contributing to deadbeat dads, and moms by the way, is that we as Americans have become very selfish and egocentric. Thank the "me" generation for this one. When you talk to these deadbeats, everything is about them. Why should they provide support to thier child, when the wife wronged them; that's very much the mindset. It isn't that they don't love their children, its that they love themselves more than their children. So much so, that they can not even see the harm they are doing to the children by not providing support. Some of these men and women would rather see their children on welfare and their former partner impoverished than pay support, not because they can't pay the support, but because they want revenge on the former partner. That's how selfish our society has become.


    Catholic Defender

  10. For every abuser, there is an ex-spouse who is "taking advantage of the system" and therefore justifies whatever action the abuser chooses to take against them.

    I think a big key here would be to develop as objective of a method as possible for determining the presence of emotional abuse. Unfortunately, I doubt that will happen for the reasons I've mentioned in a recent post. Very few of us are willing to really look at what emotional abuse is because most of us do it at one time or another.

  11. There is bias against fathers and bias against mothers – it depends on the state, the county, and the judge. There are loads in inequity to make good parents suffer, moms or dads. Divorce can be so destructive, especially when one or both parties turn up the heat with legal and financial tricks..

  12. CD, excellent points, thanks. Yes, in general I would expect there to be a bias against dads having the kids–all else being equal (it rarely is, of course), it makes sense as a default that moms should have primary responsibility for the kids, but there are many exceptions where the fathers should be the ones with custody, and it can be a huge uphill battle for a good father too gain custody when a very bad mom has them by default.

    Good points on no-fault divorce, too.

  13. Fantastic post. My dad did this exact thing to my mom. With the help of his new wealthy wife, he quit his job and couldn't find work and lived on her income. When he did work, he told me that he intentionally worked part-time so my mother couldn't get "his" money. This is while my mother and youngest brother were living in my home with everything paid for with my husband's salary. Selfishness, pure selfishness is what drives men to do that.

    It's a scary statistic for mothers and children when only 40% of the younger generation sees marriage as "relevant". I think that the "widows and orphans" spoken about in the scriptures includes wives and children of divorce. And we as a society should be doing more than offering food stamps – we should be supporting the institution of marriage and the values that protect mothers and children. It is far better to have a dad providing for and supporting his children than the government.

  14. Since you asked for some statistics and I am swell guy like that (ok, I coincidentally came across some good stuff, but let me preen…)

    Statistics on the kind of people who cheat on spouses

    Statistics on female philanderers

    Statistics on women who get around before marriage

    I would have liked to include an equal amount of material on men, but at first glance, I did not see it, though there was a reference in the last link, that the same patterns did not hold for men (hmmm odd).

  15. I don't mean to hijack your post. It is excellent and makes so very good points in very strong language that I completely agree with.

    I would just like to say that these same points you make are also valid in support of gay marriage. Many gay couples wish to raise children (their own or adopted) in a stable marriage with all the legal rights and support enjoyed by straight couples .

    Obviously sex within a gay marriage does not produce babies, but that doesn't mean there are no children and spouses in such families in need of protection under the law. I think, excepting sex==offspring, every point you've made supports gay marriage.

  16. HI Stan,

    I would respectfully disagree with you. One of the reasons for marriage from a legal standpoint, is so that people can know who the daddy is. Most states, though probably not all still employ the presumption that a child born during the course of a marriage is a product of the marriage. What that means is the child's parents are the two married people. Strictly from a legal perspective, its already hard enough to figure out who the daddies are. On top of that, the courts are overwhelmed just dealing with the heterosexual marriages. We really don't need to compound the problem by introducing gay marraige.


    Catholic Defender

  17. So Joseph, are you suggesting that Jeff cannot have independent ideas or speak of the broader reasons for marriage because Joseph Smith understood it differently than you? Joseph Smith did not invent marriage so he is clearly not the source.

    On another note, I know the gay marriage horse has already been beaten. But it ties in to the aforementioned purpose of marriage.

    Marriage was not implemented for adults to show off their love for each other. It was invented to provide a framework for the acceptable mode of sexual expression. Because sex does lead to children, and children are entitled to a mother and father who are committed to their maintenance. Marriage also creates a societal expectation of fidelity so that men are expected to take care of the women they get pregnant, and the children they create.

    The problem with gay marriage, is that by allowing it, it institutionalizes the idea that mothers and fathers do not matter to children, and that the sexual needs of adults outweigh the developmental needs of children. So allowing two men to "marry" and raise children directly implies that mothers do not matter to children.

    But the reality is, children need good mothers and fathers, and any other arrangement puts children at a severe disadvantage for proper development.

    Gay marriage may not have many immediate negative effects, but the long term effects of diluting the importance of mothers and fathers in the lives of children will have long term negative consequences for all children.

    The world did not start with puritans. Acceptance of sexual deviancy is not new either. Civilizations in the past have, over and over, allowed the decline of their family structures until society collapsed. And after the collapse, the survivors once again realize the importance of morality and will once again create a new society based strict morality and marriage, with all the expectations of fidelity will be strictly enforced.

  18. Carey, I think you were responding to someone who had linked to a hostile site. Since I'm not interested in providing added visibility to sites that strike me as hostile, I reserve the right to delete them.

  19. Stan, I disagree. The biological imperative behind the nearly universal institution of marriage is based on a union that can produce offspring and the need to protect those offspring–as in encouraging there to be a father and a mother who stick around. Social norms and technology shift, but the historic and biologically-linked basis for and reason for marriage is strongly rooted in a heterosexual union.

    Read the article on the Reason for Marriage–it addresses that topic very well.

  20. "The biological imperative behind the nearly universal institution of marriage is based on a union that can produce offspring and the need to protect those offspring"

    There is nothing in this statement that excludes a gay couple.

    "but the historic and biologically-linked basis for and reason for marriage is strongly rooted in a heterosexual union."

    I agree that marriage is historically heterosexual, but why? Simply because it has always been done that way is no justification. Given that there are loving gay and lesbian couples who wish to raise children with the same protection under then law as straight couples, there's simply is no rational reason to deny them, only religious reasons which I disagree with.

  21. If you're going to write an article addressing marriage from a Mormon perspective, why not deal with honest feedback?

    Why is it that you are using an old Mormon tactic of labeling content "hostile" in order to delete comments instead of addressing the issue?

    (By the way, I only linked to my blog because I don't have a Google account and I didn't want to leave an anonymous comment. I don't need the added "visibility";. By the grace of God, I've got plenty of work as it is.)

    I, too, am a father; I believe the Scriptures (Old & New Testaments) are clear that marriage is 1 husband and 1 wife, regardless of who did or said what.

    So here are the issues:

    1) Did Joseph Smith "remember the real reason for marriage"?
    2) Is it good for a child to have more than 1 mother?
    3) Is a deadbeat dad worse than a dad married to 32 other women?

    Please address the issue.

  22. Josh, marriage throughout history has had several variations. Polygamy is one of them. I have trouble with it, as you do, but it still falls within the concept of marriage and apparently even marriage recognized by God based on God's apparent acceptance of the polygamous relationships that gave birth to the twelve tribes of the House of Israel. Abraham, the early polygamist, was even called a Friend of God by none other than Jesus Christ. David and Solomon, prophets of God, had multiple wives–controversial, questionable, but not something that automatically cut them off from God's favor.

    Polygamy, controversial as it is, still provides a bond between a man and a wife and provides that a child is born into a family with a father and mother. Each child has one biological mother and one biological father. The presence of other women in that child's life is not necessarily harmful, if that's what you are inferring. It is more difficult for the women, though, since the financial support and time and attention from the father are diluted. Yes, I don't like polygamy – way too complex for my tastes, and I'm so glad that it's been banned for the past century in the Church.

    This post, though, is not about polygamy, and I'm really not interested in hijacking it to that topic. Let's stick to the topic of marriage and divorce in our society. We've dealt with polygamy far too often on this blog. The mention of "marriage" or anything else is not an excuse to raise that favorite topic of some folks who just can't let it go.

  23. I have to chuckle at this idea that marriage exists for the purpose of keeping both parents (or at least the father) around. If that was the "Real Reason for Marriage," then there wouldn't be any point in marriage being eternal. After all, I think it's safe to presume that you don't think your deity would run off and leave his spouse and children behind!

  24. The article asserts that having a biological mother and father as the core of the family is part of the marriage definition. This is really just an assertion and is being refuted by studies. Using that line of reasoning one could argue that a marriage of a man and woman producing offspring, even if the father is an abusive drunk and the mother a strung out addict, is better than a gay or lesbian couple raising children with love, caring and affection. You could easily replace "Father" and Mother" in that article with "loving, caring parents" and it would be more meaningful. Asserting that marriage must mean biological Mother and biological Father is simply contrived.

  25. A sincere thanks for the response, Jeff.

    Well, that Abraham married two women was no secret. Yet there are two major differences: He didn't try to conceal it, nor did he try to say that God told him to.

    An article you linked to in your article actually says:

    "In all the wildly rich and various cultures flung throughout the ecosphere, in society after society, whether tribal or complex, and however bizarre, human beings have created systems of publicly approved sexual union between men and women that entail well-defined responsibilities of mothers and fathers."

    So, I didn't think that bringing up the definition of marriage, as practiced and understood by Joseph Smith, was out-of-place necessarily. After all, what were Joseph Smith's responsibilities regarding the children he fathered?

    Plural marriage is just another side issue, I agree. Most Mormons can see from the outside that it is harmful and I commend those who do. However, that he practiced and taught it strikes at the core of who Joseph Smith really was and his motivations. After all, he's not getting married for the cake.

    That's all!

  26. Growing up in a situation where my father left the country and refused to help my mother with the three children he spawned with her – I understand this well. Obviously, as others have begun to argue other sides to this, it's important to remember that deadbeat parents come in both genders and it isn't fair to make any generalisations about court systems and favouring of certain sides, etc.

    All the varying situations need to be helped, regardless of details like basis for marriage and who is favoured more by courts, flaws in the system, so on. I tend to see this post more about highlighting one issue that is rampant when it shouldn't be; it has reinforced my values – reminding me of what's important; that there are people struggling out there as I/my family did once. That that is what matters – it's about changing these struggles, identifying where the problems begin and where the system fails these families. To me, not about niggling arguments of definition of marriage or which is more favoured, the mother or the father. It needs to be about identifying where the struggle actually is on a family-to-family basis, and ensuring they are able to get all the help they can.

  27. Nick, how about one of the real reasons for marriage? Eternal marriage is not common in the numerous cultures that have developed related approaches to marriage, but children and moms needing protection seems pretty universally recognized.

  28. Shweta, good perspective, I appreciate. Sorry about the challenges with your father. Agree that we need to be thinking about how to help the people who are struggling now.

    Love your name, by the way. What's the right way to pronounce it? I'm guessing something like "shway – tuh".

  29. Try having your kids and all possessions taken away by a spouse whom you trusted for 17 years, and then you may call me a deadbeat dad. In my opinion if a spouse chooses to divorce he or she should pay all of the children's needs. Looking at the statistics their are a whole lot of people that feel the same way. No fault divorce and the courts bias against men without true concern for children has caused this social problem. I would rather live the rest of my life in prison then spend one day working to support my wifes life and decision to divorce me. What possible reason would i have to work after loosing everything to a no fault divorce.

  30. Hi Anonymous of August 6, 2012

    You are the embodiment of the typical dead beat dad that I see in my line of work. You're bitter, and angry at your former spouse, so much so, that you can not see the forest through the trees. I agree, you as the former husband, should not support your ex's lifestyle. You two split up, for what ever reasons that you have. But, in the middle of your selfish anger, are children who did nothing wrong, didn't ask to be brought into this world, and got stuck with you and your ex as parents. They deserve to be care for and supported by both of you, regardless of the differences and anger you have toward your ex. That's why you should get off your butt and get a job, because as a loving father, your children deserve that.


    Catholic Defender

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