Who will pay to see a movie about black guys being attacked in the family court system?

A BU-affiliated friend on Facebook highlighted “Where’s Daddy? Examines Interplay of Race and a Flawed Child Support System” (BU Today):

Parents who have no reported income and those who make less than $10,000 a year account for 70 percent of the total child support debt owed, according to a study by the Urban Institute. Parents in child support default often face strained family relations, financial ruin, and in extreme cases, jail time. In his new feature-length documentary Where’s Daddy? BU alum Rel Dowdell tackles the dysfunctional child support system, which he argues is especially hard on African American fathers.

Take the case of Walter L. Scott, who was $18,000 in child support default when he was pulled over by police in 2015 and fatally shot in the back as he fled on foot. Scott’s brother said it was the threat of jail time and the loss of his job, two consequences he had suffered previously, that compelled him to run.

Where’s Daddy can be seen on Vimeo and rented or purchased on Amazon.com.

Is the premise of the movie flawed? Family court is set up to benefit children, right? Therefore adult suffering shouldn’t matter, even if the hardship falls hardest on black American men. From the “Children, Mothers, and Fathers” chapter,

“Child Support and Young Children’s Development” (Nepomnyaschy, et al, 2012; Social Science Review 86:1), a Rutgers and University of Wisconsin study of children of lower income unmarried parents, found that any kind of court involvement was associated with harm to children: “We also find that provision of formal [court-ordered] child support is associated with worse withdrawn and aggressive behaviors.” The authors found that informal (voluntary) support from fathers could be helpful to children living with single mothers but court-ordered support, even when the cash was actually transferred, was on balance harmful.

In other words, the suffering of the adult black men ends up making their biological children worse off, not better off. In terms of spending power within the mother’s household, at the lower end of the income scale there is no difference whether the father is successfully tapped for child support. Mom is entitled to a free house, free health care, free food, and a free smartphone. If the defendant pays something, the welfare state will pay a little less (but still pretty close to the full $60,000+/year cost for a welfare family). If the defendant doesn’t pay, the welfare state has to provide anyway. At higher income levels, economists have found that mothers use child support to cut their working hours more or less dollar for dollar. So if the defendant pays, the mom has more leisure time. Spending power and standard of living within the mother’s household remains constant.

Thus the psychologists and economists suggest that the movie’s premise is not flawed. Yet will anyone pay to see this? Righteous Americans say that “Black Lives Matter” and even hang the banners outside their homes and (all-white) churches. But do they act as though the lives of black low-income men actually do matter? In our post-divorce litigation chapter we quote a legislator who actually does care:

Maryland State Assembly Delegate Jill Carter explained how it worked for her constituents: “A lot of men fall into arrearages and have to live in the shadows. They can’t drive, can’t work without their entire paycheck being garnished, and are sometimes imprisoned. Even if a man is well-intentioned, unless he wins the lottery he can’t get out of it.”

(If Carter cares, why isn’t she able to do something? The bills that she introduces to address the suffering of her black male constituents in Maryland’s family courts are voted down by white legislators, for example:

Carter has sponsored a bill for a rebuttable presumption of 50/50 shared parenting. What are its chances? “The Women’s Caucus staged a walk-off the last time the bill got out of committee.” Why does Carter keep introducing this kind of legislation? “I’m not married and I don’t have kids,” she responded. “I don’t have a dog in this fight. But from working with my constituents and clients in my law practice I can see how unfair the current system is.” Who benefits from leaving things the way they are? “Wealthy lawyers who represent people in Montgomery County,” she responded.


I wonder who funds a movie like this in a country where people are most passionate about the lives of the Marvel superheroes.


7 thoughts on “Who will pay to see a movie about black guys being attacked in the family court system?

  1. Voluntary support of children is correlated with good breeding/SES, a feeling of father’s benevolent presence, and of mother’s caring most about what’s right for their kids, no? It’s just a *sign* of something good.

  2. Lol, man, I get the feeling child support payments are to right leaning men what student loan payments are to lefties. on my facebook i am routinely bemused at how so many leftists feel it is a monumental injustice that they may actually have to pay back the 40-80k in loans they took out to pay for their sociology degree. Guys, that’s how a loan works! Likewise, if a person has a kid, he has to either sit there and take care of the kid (what Mom does most of the time) or pay child support to somebody else who is willing to take care of the kid. it sucks that black men (or men of any race) are often put in a bad spot by the responsibility to pay child support, just as it sucks that many of the liberal friends I have couldn’t get a good paying job with their anthropology degrees. but the reponsibilities here are not just going to go away. It’s not an injustice that Walter Scott had to pay child support; it’s an injustice that his wife had to raise his kids without apparently getting any of the money she needed to raise his children.

  3. There is an awful, terrible joke that I repeat here for purely informational purposes. I condemn the sentiments suggested:

    Once you go black…

    you’re a single mother.

    Never mind that if you consider abortion to be murder, it is by far the leading cause of death among people of colour. I am unsure where the intersectionality of racism, sexism, and age-ism conjoin on this matter. Let us mumble some platitude about abused black bodies and avoid serious soul-searching.

  4. Karen: I don’t think this is a right/left issue (and I’m not sure that the U.S. has coherent “right” and “left” political groups, either, but let’s assume for now that we do).

    It was the Family Support Act of 1988 that made it equally profitable to get hold of a child from a marriage or from a casual sex act. Thus it became more profitable to have sex for one night with a specialist physician than to go to medical school and work as a primary care doctor (in Wisconsin, but not Minnesota; in Massachusetts, but not Texas). It was the same act that spawned the $6+ billion bureaucracy that targets these low-income black guys. Ronald Reagan was the president who signed the bill. See http://www.realworlddivorce.com/History So the shift in family court profits from marriage+alimony to sex+child support was set in motion by someone identified as “right”.

    In conservative/Republican Utah, it is straightforward to collect $72,000 per year, tax-free, by having sex with a high-income acquaintance (see http://www.realworlddivorce.com/Utah ), which is far more than the median after-tax income for workers in that state (therefore it is not financially rational to marry a median-income partner; having sex with two different high-income partners would yield a spending power of more than $144,000 per year).

    Americans who call themselves “lefties” admire European nations, but it is generally not possible to earn significant child support profits in the lefty paradises (see http://www.realworlddivorce.com/International ; max revenue obtainable in Sweden is about $2,500 per year, $8,000 per year in Denmark, and less than $6,000 per year in Germany (i.e., close to the numbers that U.S. states pay to parents of foster children, adjusted for the difference in per capita incomes).

    Circling back to Walter Scott… I don’t think that we need to be sad that his children did not get financial support from a breadwinner parent. If he was earning less than $10,000 in middle-age I think it is safe to assume that he was not a significant earner for most of his life. The breadwinner parent for his biological children would therefore have been the federal government (via housing assistance, Medicaid, and food stamps). Any child support paid by Mr. Scott would simply have offset some of the payments from the true breadwinner parent (i.e., the government).

    [Separately, as noted above, the research by Nepomnyaschy found that children of low-income or no-income mothers become worse off when courts order child support and it is paid in full. At the high income level it is possible that a mother with more leisure time is a better mom and therefore the children will be better off, but if that’s true why do politicians encourage women to work at all? If the mom who cuts her working hours in response to a child support victory is a better mom, shouldn’t the best possible mom be the one who stays at home altogether?]

    Let’s do a thought experiment. Suppose that 97 percent of low-income black men were able to obtain custody of their biological children (that’s the percentage of http://www.realworlddivorce.com/Massachusetts residents collecting child support who are women). There would then be millions of black guys relieved of any need to work because the government would provide them, as custodial parents, with a free house, free health care via Medicaid, free food (SNAP), and a free smartphone. The kids would be entitled to a government-run daycare starting at age 3? So the black guys wouldn’t have to work and wouldn’t have to deal with their kids for at least 6 hours per day from age 3-18. They could relax with friends playing Xbox or watching TV or perhaps do some work for cash. There would be a government bureaucracy to bring women (the former sex partners of these guys) into court, extract cash from them to reimburse the government for all of the good stuff provided to the black men, and imprison them if they didn’t pay.

    [Sticking with our Massachusetts example, the single black dad could sign the children up for METCO (limited to children with a different skin color than what prevails in the suburbs) and he would enjoy taxpayer-funded child-free leisure time from 6:00 am until 8:30 pm on weekdays. See http://philip.greenspun.com/blog/2016/09/08/low-effort-parenting-in-massachusetts-via-metco/ ]

    How much political support would there be for a system in which black men enjoyed a government-funded lifestyle in the company of their children while women were chased by the legal system to pay a small fraction of the total cost? If the answer is “none” then I think that suggests the subject of the film is not primarily a left/right issue (which is maybe one reason why nobody will see it; it will prevent them from engaging in a left/right war of words on Facebook!).

  5. Mememe: That joke is mostly on white people. They laughed when their black neighbors availed themselves of the “marry the government” option in the 1960s. Then whites blew up their own nuclear families starting in the 1970s with the no-fault divorce revolution and plenty of whites also found the “marry the government” strategy. It is still true that the percentage is higher in the black community, but the majority of Americans who were raised outside of a two-parent household are whites (highest percentage among wealthy nations; see http://www.realworlddivorce.com/InOurEconomy )

    Whites seem to be at least as eager as non-whites to profit from having children, regardless of their income level. Angelina Jolie had a net worth of $275 million when she became a child support plaintiff (see http://philip.greenspun.com/blog/2016/09/21/cash-value-of-angelina-jolies-children-roughly-50-million-tax-free/ ).

    The abortion sales that we learned about (see http://www.realworlddivorce.com/ChildSupportLitigationWithoutMarriage for how this works in the states that don’t have caps on child support) were by white Americans represented by white American attorneys.

    So… it may be fun for white Americans to feel superior to black Americans, but if you choose single parenthood as a yardstick with “more single” as the “worse” end, white Americans are inferior to nearly every other group of humans on Planet Earth.

  6. I’m beginning to think a lot of this is because women (and other men), like the moral/aesthetic idea of punishing sexually successful men for leaving women. It’s all tarted up as “for the children” (and nobody likes “deadbeat dads”, especially serial ones), but really it’s just comeuppance. Places where there tend to be really rich men tend to have uncapped child support and/or generous divorce settlements, partially because it’s unseemly to think of a billionaire supporting a hundred kids at 20 grand a year. So, the moralists say “screw that guy” and the rest is just collateral damage.

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