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.
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