Single dads are sick and tired of being labeled "deadbeats" when it comes to paying child support. And data suggest they have good reason to be upset.
The percentage of "deadbeat" moms is actually higher than that of dads who won't pay, even though mothers are more consistently awarded custody of children by the courts.
Census figures show only 57 percent of moms required to pay child support -- 385,000 women out of a total of 674,000 -- give up some or all of the money they owe. That leaves some 289,000 "deadbeat" mothers out there, a fact that has barely been reported in the media.
That compares with 68 percent of dads who pay up, according to the figures.
Men who are due child support are also getting tired of deadbeat moms' excuse that they can't pony up the money, and some courts have responded.
California lawyer Eudene Eunique in February was denied a passport because she was $30,000 behind in child-support. Instead of spending money on visiting her family in Mexico and on business contracts, the appeals court ruled Eunique’s money should go to her kids.
Meanwhile, warrant officers in southwest Florida earlier this summer dubbed an effort to list the area’s top deadbeat moms who owed up to $19,000 in support as "Operation Father’s Day." Included on the list were Trudi Dana, 43, who owes $19,001 and 29-year-old Mary Mahadie Friar, who owes $16,493.
Of course, the problem of deadbeat dads remains a serious one. Many more men than women have to pay child support, making the overall number of deadbeat dads much greater.
The statistics show 4.3 million moms out of 6.3 million who are supposed to receive child support actually get it. That leaves the alarming figure of about 2 million deadbeat dads, putting them more in the media spotlight than deadbeat moms.
But men also still pay much more in child support. The Census Bureau last month also released numbers showing fathers paid an average of $3,000 to custodial moms in 1997. Women paid little over half that. Moms also get about 60 percent of what they are owed, whereas dads only get 48 percent.
Not only are the dads paying up more when they don’t have custody, but when the court does hand the kids over to dads, they work more than moms who have custody.
While 7 percent of custodial moms work more than 44 hours a week, 24.5 percent of single custodial dads work more than 44 hours. And only about half as many custodial dads get government help than moms.
Some dads say it’s not for a lack of laws that moms are getting away with not paying up.
Bill Henry is head of Dads Against Discrimination of West Virginia and a single dad. In 1983, his first ex was ordered by the court to pay $25 a month in child support – which he did not start actually receiving until 1987 – even though the state minimum then should have been $75 a month.
Henry said dads are often discouraged from pursuing custody battles by attorneys and often don’t like to make waves in the system, as long as they get to regularly see their child or get complete custody.
"A lot of men are afraid to ask for child support simply because they think if they’re asking for child support, they won’t get a chance to get custody," Henry said.
California dad Scott Downing has also experienced child-support snafus and said courts continue to give dads the short end of the custody stick. "The laws are there, but it’s the way the courts interpret those laws," he said.
Single dad David Wood of North Carolina has similar concerns.
"My frustration … is not so much there’s any biases in me getting child support … it’s just the whole system needs a lot of work. If you don’t get aggressive with it … you have to really work to get it if someone doesn’t want to play the game" and pay up.
Wood, whose ex-wife has had trouble in court, said there are four men he knows of just at his workplace who are currently or are going to be single dads, or are grandparents of kids who had deadbeat moms.
"It’s not the exception anymore," Wood said, adding that before he became a single dad two years ago, "I would have almost bought into that stereotype" the dads are usually the deadbeats. But "that philosophy is just 30-40 years out of date."
But more moms that don’t have the kids simply can’t afford to pay child support since they are poorer, said Geraldine Jensen, president of the Association for Children for Enforcement of Support. Studies show the average income for non-custodial moms is only $15,000 a year, whereas non-custodial dads average about $40,000 a year.
And moms who don’t have custody of the kids often remarry and have more kids, and often choose to not work.
But "that’s certainly no excuse," Jensen said. "It doesn’t matter if you’re a mom or dad, you should meet your child support obligations."